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Waiting for the Calming Thennal

Waiting for the Calming Thennal

Early this morning, there was a brief lull in the storm. The kun vadai winds were still gusting from the northwest. Palayam refers to the kun vaadai winds as visha kaathu (poisonous – as in dangerous – breeze). Today is the day the deep depression that is threatening to drown a partially submerged Chennai makes landfall. The rains are intense, and no let up is likely for at least a day. This audio recording was made by Palayam on the banks of the Adyar, near the confluence of the river with the sea.

The Adyar is impressive today, not the stagnant cesspool of shitwater that it was barely a month ago. The surplus waters from Chembarambakkam, the spillover from the numerous tanks in the catchment and the copious run-off from the concrete jungle that is Chennai has swollen the river and forced open the river mouth. At its confluence with the sea, the river is more than half a kilometre wide – not yet as wide as it was in 2015.

In his recording, Palayam explains how he makes sense of the storm. In summary, this is what he has to say:

“The winds have to shift and blow from the south. The Thennal breeze has to blow for the kun vaadai to be controlled. The thennal is the kachan breeze that blows from the south. It is only when the thennal arrives that the kun vaadai will calm down. That is when we will know that the storm has made landfall. That is when the seas also will calm down. As long as the kun vaadai blows, the sea will be in a state of foment. It won’t calm down. It is only after the kachan breeze starts blowing from the south that the kun vadai will slow down. When the kachan arrives, the seas will heave one last time and then settle down to a normal. The breeze that you see today will not be the breeze tomorrow. It will run in from a different direction. This is what our elders have told us and this is what we know that when the kun vadai calms and the thennal arrives from the south, the seas will settle down and conditions will be right for us to push our nets.”

Look at the images of the storm before and after it has made landfall. The storm is one big mass of air rotating in an anticlockwise circle, pushing an angry red tomato – the cloud-front north and west right over Chennai. Notice the direction of the arrows as they descend into Chennai from the north and northwest. That is the deadly kun vadai that prevails in the lead-up to and during the storm.

Before landfall

Now look at the after image from November 12. The storm has moved inland and the eastern half of the circle of depression is now over Chennai. Look at the direction of the arrows. The kun vadai is now replaced by the thennal – the calming breeze from the south.

After landfall

The last two months have been harsh for the fishers who have returned from the seas with nothing to show for their effort. The storm may be bad for the ill-built city. But it often brings in the prospects of good fishing. Inshallah, the seas will be ready for fishing by the weekend, and the boats set out and return with nets full of fish.

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