How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Monsoon

They are referred to locally as ‘the rains.’ The monsoon season in India is officially from June through September and accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s annual rainfall. The rains of the monsoon are erratic and unpredictable. Warm and sunny skies can quickly give way to torrential downpours with violent thunder and lightning. Despite the fact that the monsoon is an annual occurrence, the city of Mumbai is not well equipped to handle the inclement weather. Drains are unable to cope with the substantial water levels, quickly flooding the streets and creating large, long lasting puddles that cars, auto-rickshaws and pedestrians alike must maneuver through and around. With a population of nearly 20 million, getting from one side of the city to the other can take upwards of an hour under the best of conditions. During the rains, it is almost comical how congested the traffic can become. Almost.

An auto-rickshaw, a primary form of transportation in Mumbai, is caught in a downpour.

Even with all the frustration it can bring to urban life, the monsoon is also highly celebrated in India. Festivals are held throughout the country to welcome the rains and many Mumbaikars even claim that this is their favorite time of the year. Most importantly however, the rains bring life to the arid land that has been left parched by the dry season. The monsoon is critical for the agricultural industry in India where roughly half of the sector’s output comes from crops sown during the rainy season. With agriculture accounting for 25% of the country’s GDP and employing nearly 70% of its residents, the health of the monsoon determines the strength of the industry and has a cascade effect on dependent sectors of the economy.

A rice paddy flooded by rains from the monsoon.

Rural agrarian borrowers have historically been the foundational client upon which microfinance organizations were built. The monsoon has a significant impact on the business of lenders in those regions but an urban microlender such as Swadhaar faces its own unique obstacles during the rainy season. The weather generally slows down the pace of life in Mumbai and creates a natural impediment to consumer spending. With less business, default numbers can rise as it becomes more difficult for clients to meet their repayment deadlines. Many slum residents are migrants from other regions of the country and use this slower period to return to their home villages. In some cases, they give their monthly loan repayments to friends or family members but in other cases the loan goes unpaid for the entirety of the time they are away.

From a practical perspective, it is also more difficult for loan officers to conduct business in the field when they have to wade through the flooded alleyways of the slum communities. Marketing and the subsequent onboarding of new clients also slows down during this time of the year. Stagnant water pooling in the densely packed slums can breed illness, keeping clients from work if they become sick or must tend to ailing family members. Clients have also been known to use their loan capital to make repairs to their home during this time of year rather than using it towards their business, buying the ubiquitous blue plastic tarps and other building materials to better insulate themselves from the weather.

While there are certainly frustrations to experience, I have genuinely enjoyed being in India during the monsoon. It is undoubtedly a unique time of the year to be in Mumbai and there have been several unexpected surprises. Merchants throughout the city offer ‘monsoon sales’ to coax residents out of their homes, making an already favorable exchange rate all the more appealing. The season discourages both domestic and international tourism, keeping hospitality prices pleasantly low. A recent weekend trip cost me nearly a third of the price it would have during the peak season. But by far the most significant advantage to being in Mumbai during this time is that the rains bring much needed respite from the oppressive summer heat. When I first arrived in Mumbai, I suffered through unbearable, sweltering weather until the monsoon mercifully began and temperatures dropped, making the weather in the city almost temperate. That fact alone is enough for me to welcome the rains.

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One Response to “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Monsoon

  • Juan Rubio
    6 years ago

    Great point Jessica, something I thought about writing as well: How does weather affect economies (and therefore microfinance) in certain countries. It took me a while to realize that my European mindset could not conceive such a dependence on weather conditions. For example, many of the roads here are unpaved and when it rains heavily they are unusable. Furthermore, if heavy rains are expected you cannot travel the days before either, because any mishap could delay your return home for days! And of course, here in Paraguay you also find an economy heavily based on agriculture, with the same issues you mentioned above!

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