One Monsoon

From a continent away, a young Peace Corps worker senses that all is not well back home.

| Fall 2017

  • Monsoon rains, which typically begin in June, mark the beginning of Nepal's rice planting season.
    Photo by Don Messerschmidt
  • Without the seasonal rains, crops would fail and food shortages would ensue. Normally, the rain slacked off in late September and then, in the course of a few weeks, the Himalayan world was transformed by sunny days leading to a cold, dry winter.
    Photo by Don Messerschmidt
  • Don Messerschmidt's Grandpa was an Alaskan fisherman by occupation and a homesteader by nature.
    Photo by Don Messerschmidt

One Wednesday morning late in the rainy season of 1964, I sat at the open window of my room overlooking the tiny hill town of Kunchha, where I lived. I was watching huge clouds expand overhead, upward and outward across the blue Himalayan sky. I knew that by noon the temperature and the humidity would rise proportionately. Those cumulonimbus clouds are the largest, most magnificent and dramatic of the nimbuses, and experience told me that they were the harbingers of a rainstorm that would blow in around tea time.

At first, the weather that morning seemed no different from any other morning since June when “the rains” began. But, while the clouds looked the same as always, there was something about them that nagged at the back of my mind, something foreboding. Even now I can feel it, much as I had then. At that time, in that place, my semi-conscious mind seemed to be playing a game with me, inexplicably evoking strong memories of my maternal grandfather who lived thousands of miles away in Alaska.

I occasionally thought of Grandpa while I was living and working far off in the Himalayas as a Peace Corps volunteer. I remember him with a touch of nostalgia even now, all these decades later. But on Wednesday, August 26, while watching the sky brim with clouds, I felt as if he were there in Kunchha with me, if only in spirit.

In my youth, Grandpa and I had been very close. While growing up in Alaska, he had been like a father to me, introducing me to nature and the outdoors. He taught me about trees and flowers, wild animals and birds, and the weather, especially how to ‘read’ the clouds and foretell storms.

Grandpa was already nearing 70 when we bonded, and like so many elders with a philosophical bent, he would tell me (then an inexperienced youth) about the wonders and mysteries of the world. He was something of an armchair mystic who, with candid fascination, often pondered aloud his own mortality.

On the cold, rainy day in September 1963 when I left Alaska to join the Peace Corps, Grandpa joined my parents to see me off at the Juneau airport. It was there that he had quietly told me something like this: You are young, Don, and today you are starting out on a grand adventure. It’s one I’d like to have done. But my adventures are nearly over. My days are numbered...

12/7/2017 10:46:06 AM

I have known Don since 2007 when he worked as an editor for a Kathmandu-based English magazine called ECS Nepal. In fact, he helped me get my first story published in that magazine. Since then he has remained a friend and mentor, always there to help me in my writing. It goes without saying that One Monsoon establishes Don as a master storyteller, par excellence. In real life too, he is always telling stories encouraging imagination of attentive audiences, including us--I and two other friends whenever we meet him. Don’s narrative of the quaint little village of Kunchha is wonderfully perceptive and masterfully crafted. The setting he creates is absolutely flawless. The story unfolds against the backdrop of the monsoon wet spells, the rains and clouds adding authenticity, color and mood to the rustic setting. As the story builds up, it shows the author’s love for his grandfather, which takes root at his adolescence and continues to grow into his manhood--and later years. He goes on to provide an insight into his psyche by expressing his thoughts and emotions, which bind him with his grandfather tightly like a baby does with his/her favorite doll. Although work often kept Don apart from his grandfather ‘in person’, he always seemed to be with him--‘in spirit’. In his case, maybe, it was that intense emotional bond with his grandfather, which sparked off that inexplicable ‘communication outside of normal sensory capability.’ I do not know; in fact, nobody knows. I have no idea how those unexplained discerning faculties like ‘premonition’, ESP, clairvoyance or telepathy happen but time has proved they exist in real life. Don’s story is a living example. Ravi M Singh, Kathmandu

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