Thursday, November 12, 2009

Turbulence, thy name is Phyan....

“In some places it's known as a tornado. In others, a cyclone. And in still others, the Idiot's Merry-go-round. ”

Someone called Jack Handy is supposed to have said that. Maybe he had an inkling about Cyclone Phyan. Going around.

What was once the outskirts, but is now nicely within city limits, in Pune (my hometown), is a place, inexplicably called Simla Office. Has nothing is common with the northern hill station(Shimla), the Mall Rd and /or apple orchards and British named structures dotting the hilly landscape there.

What this place in Pune is famous for, in India, is for being the office of the Meteorological department (IMD) in Pune.

Throughout all the time I spent in Pune in the early 50's to late 60's, its not as if we didn't have alarming temperatures or rains. But no one really gave predictions from the IMD, and if they did, it always sounded like recycled predictions that often come under astrology, in the papers.

Knowledgeable folks always associated sudden rains etc with some arrangements of constellations as per the Indian Lunar calendar, and took action. The IMD manifested itself as a little column in the newspapers, showing temperatures across the state, in the past 24 hours. Most of the time, things changed slowly anyway, so there was nothing to predict.

Then one grew up and got a world view of things, and saw television weather types, predicting rain and people rearranging weekends , as they took these predictions seriously. The weathermen even made fine predictions in temperature, say, as fall approached, and said things like, "temperature will be in the low something, and having that barbecue on Saturday is not such a good idea" etc etc. And people took it seriously.

Lately, one has been subject to news about cyclones ,tornadoes, and hurricanes, like Katrina, their intensity is graded, and television shots show lines of lines of cars on the freeways, , with people and belongings, making it out of the epicentre of the landfall , and law enforcement folks giving interviews about how stubborn old people wouldn't listen, and didn't want to move etc.

Mumbai was subject to its first cyclone warning(of my lifetime) from Tuesday. Since it was approaching south-southwest from the Arabian Sea, swirling towards Mumbai, appropriate warnings were issued for fisher folk and others who worked in the sea, along the West coast.

With so many predictions gone wrong during this monsoon, the IMD went into detailed overdrive, giving longitudes and latitudes of the approaching menace. specifying huge wind speeds, and got the Disaster management types at the Municipal and State headquarters all hyped up. Offices, schools, and colleges were asked to close by 1 pm. Examinations were postponed. Office bosses suddenly appeared very benevolent. Folks on television made announcements. Several ambitious types had their moments in the sun, or should I say, rain.

What happened ?

Yes, we did have , say 1.5 days of unseasonal rains. The temperature cooled down a bit. As it should be in November, but never is.

My friend has a bunch of birds in her balcony, and they have a lot to say when rain is imminent. A couple of days earlier they were chirping away to glory, Mumbai had a biggish rain Monday night and Tuesday morning. This time they were a bit quiet. And they are never wrong.

But knowing the patterns of unsuccessful prediction from the IMD, my friend and I went out to attend a handicraft exhibition that cyclonic Wednesday afternoon, and enjoyed the lesser crowds. Driving was now a slightly improved experience, in the cool weather, with the rain having washed off clean, all the sins of the potholed road outside, and yes, filled them with water. Children from our building rushed to the grounds to organize a cricket match in the slush. Office goers travelling home in buses had a smile playing on their lips, looking forward to a great cuppa at home with some spicy snacks, eaten , for a change, leaning back, feet up, and relaxed....

Some folks I know, thought that fruits sold at roadside stalls would get cheaper, (having no closed place to protect the fruit), as they would look for buyers , and their hunch was correct. (I was with one of them).

It seems , the Cyclone, now named inexplicably as Cylcone Phyan, simply changed its mind. It simply took a drastic upward left turn, lost much of its energy doing that , and fizzled out in one of our Northern States, which boasts of a desert.

The IMD had predicted "landfall" in the early hours of Thursday. Instead, more than 12 ours early, Wednesday afternoon, when I was inside the exhibition complex, the cyclone kind of whizzed past, with a smattering of rain. Instead of orderly lines of cars going somewhere, we had amazing traffic jams starting Tuesday , with all that 1.5 days rain, water logging, and general cyclone hype. Kind of a farewell scenario, from a monsoon that has eluded Mumbai and the state this year. Coastal and fishing folk had to bear the brunt of the strong winds as the thing changed course in mid ocean.

It seems Phyan, in Burmese , means a cherry that has dropped from a tree. And here I was, wondering whether it was a male or female name, habituated as I was to hearing things like Katrina.

I wonder who decided the names . And why cherries ? What's so significant about a cherry trickling off a tree? No wonder the cyclone turned away.

Maybe they could have given robust names like Cyclone Vyjayantimala, Cyclone Mallika, , Cyclone Deepika, Cyclone Mamta, Cyclone Priyanka, Cyclone Pratibha, or yes, Cyclone Mayawati.

I can see the anti-womens'-reservation-bill folks frothing at the mouth.

So yes, we could have Cyclone Lalu, Cyclone Koda, Cyclone Amar, Cyclone Mulayam , Cyclone Raj, Cyclone Abu and possibly Cyclone Rahul,

I can see a mob gathering in the distance shouting slogans saying it should be Cyclone Chhatrapati Shivaji. And another , agitating to have it named as the Cyclone Rajiv....

But as is usually the case, the politicians know how to milk this for all its benefits.

The newly formed government is having to deal with the recent violence in the House, by the newly elected legislators. There are secret and not so secret pressures at play. There are no immediate answers and solutions and meetings need to end. There needs to be a path out of the political cyclone.

But so desperate are they that the deputy chief minister resorted to this :

There is a possibility of a cyclone as thick clouds have gathered again, threatening heavy rains. It's time we should immediately wind up the functioning to relieve the employees. Vehicles have been deployed to take them home safely.

As they say in cricket, that was an end-of-the-day's-play.

First the stuff with the Tides of the Century. Now this. Why do we need the Indian Meteorological Department ?

( I'd love to know how much their budget is, what the taxpayers finance, and whether we get commensurate returns. I also know a blogger who has recently written a very informative post on Public Interest Litigation.)

I can see the beginnings of head shaking.

Never mind....


  1. There was also comments on twitter. Which said that a certain Raj had made the demand that the cyclone have a Marathi name and upon its coming ashore, gave it a tight slap !

    And there it went !

    Well, there has also been lot of insight into how these things are named ! Certainly Vijayanthimala and such else will sound sexy !

    And how will these chaps read the news these news in these channels...

    "The great depression has weekend as Vijayanthimala enters land..."

    hmm ! :)

  2. Our Hurricanes are named alphabetically and alternating between a woman's and a man's name. Works for us.

  3. Our Hurricanes are named alphabetically and alternating between a woman's and a man's name. Works for us.

  4. Would rather depend upon birds to tell me about the weather. At least that way we could be assured of some inspiring company. :-)

  5. When has the Met Dept been accurate lately? Is it their fault or is the global warming upsetting their predictions? And it really is unfair naming the storms after a woman and the spaceships/satellite after a man.