During the summer months of March, April and May, thunderstorm activity is at its peak over many parts of India. If conditions are favourable, cumulonimbus clouds form in the afternoons and quickly grow to great heights. They produce heavy downpours, accompanied by thunder, lightning, sometimes hail, and strong gusts of wind. The showers provide a welcome relief from the sweltering and oppressive heat of the summer. Thunderclouds have a short life cycle, they dissipate quickly and the sky gets a washed-out clear blue colour again.

Many times, the onset of the southwest monsoon is heralded by violent thundershowers, “garajat barasat saawan aayo re” as some songs put it. But once the monsoon has been firmly established across the country, thunderstorms get much fewer in number, and they are mostly confined to the region of the monsoon trough that runs from west to east across north India. There are occasions, however, when thunderstorms do develop during the monsoon season, such as at the end of a long dry spell or a break in the monsoon. Thunderstorm activity revives once again with the retreat of the southwest monsoon in September-October.

So the real monsoon rains come not from the tall localized cumulonimbus clouds but from the altocumulus and altostratus clouds of medium height that get spread out over the country. This extensive cloud cover is the most characteristic and distinguished feature of satellite images of India in the monsoon. The monsoon rains come in a steady continuous drizzle, generally light but sometimes heavy, free from the distractions of thunder or lightning. This is the “rim jhim” of the monsoon that makes the heart dance joyfully to the rhythm of the raindrops. This is the “rim jhim”, the pure, soft but relentless downpour that is matched by the outpouring of the heart’s yearnings, desires and also its saddest thoughts.

My favourite rim jhim song is the one sung by Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar, “Aha rim jhim ke ye pyare pyare geet liye”, for the film Usne Kaha Tha of 1960. Although monsoon clouds do not have the proverbial silver lining around them, this is a song of joy and hope. “Aayee raat suhani dekho preet liye…haatho mein mere tera haath rahe …mera tumhara sari zindagi ka saath rahe.” With Shailendra’s lyrics, and Salil Cloudhury’s music, it is a song with a fast rhythm.

In another 1960 film, Kala Bazaar, Geeta Dutt and Mohd. Rafi sang a song with an almost parallel theme but not quite as joyful, “Rim jhim ke tarane leke ayee barsaat”. The music was composed by S. D. Burman.

“Naina barse rim jhim rim jhim, piya tore aawan ki aas” sang Lata Mangeshkar for the film Woh Kaun Thi, which was released in 1964. Among the rim jhim songs that I like, this is perhaps the slowest, and Madan Mohan’s music is sad, mysterious and haunting.

“Rim jhim ke ye geet sawan laye, haye bheegi bheegi raaton mein” was sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi for the film Anjaana of 1969. Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music has a slow but forceful beat.

“Rim jhim gire” were two songs sung separately by Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar, under R. D. Burman’s music direction for the film Manzil of 1977. Kishore Kumar’s song, written by Yogesh, brings out the burning desire of a heart set on fire by the monsoon. “Rim jhim gire saawan, sulagh sulagh jaye man, bheege aaj is mausam mein, lagi kaisi yeh agan…jab ghoongaruon si bajti hain boonde…”. 

Most of the rim jhim songs that are still popularly remembered are from Hindi films of, technologically speaking, a bygone era. Perhaps their black and white medium was more suited for conveying the moods of the monsoon, as the monsoon clouds are not painted in colour but appear in vivid shades of grey between the black and white extremes. However, the film ‘1942 A Love Story’, released in 1994, was a product of modern technology and R. D. Burman’s music. It had this lovely colourful duet “Rim jhim, rim jhim, rum jhum, rum jhum” which was sung by Kumar Sanu and Kavita Krishnamurthy for Anil Kapoor and Manisha Koirala on the screen. It was Javed Akhtar who wrote the words “Rim jhim, rim jhim, rum jhum, rum jhum, bheegi bheegi rut mein, tum hum, hum tum, chalte hain… bajta hain jaltarang…motiyon jaisa jal barse…”

So next time when it rains, think of pearls coming down from the sky and dancing at your doorstep!