This was the case one day in 2008 when an extended family of farmers from a village called Satichiwadi climbed up to the hilltop temple of their village goddess, planning to ask her for rain. It was mid-May and 106 degrees, and Satichiwadi, a village of 83 families that sits in a parched rural valley in the state of Maharashtra, about a hundred miles northeast of Mumbai, hadn't had any significant rainfall for seven months. Most of India at this point was caught in an inescapable annual wait. In New Delhi, the heat had triggered power cuts. Dust storms raced, unmitigated by moisture, across the northern states. Tanker trucks clogged the rural highways, delivering government-sponsored loads of drinking water to villages whose wells had run dry. Meanwhile, radio newscasters were just beginning to track a promising swirl of rain clouds moving over the Andaman Islands, off the southeast coast.
All day, villagers had been speculating about those distant clouds. It was gambling time for rain-dependent farmers across India. In the weeks leading up to the monsoon, many would invest a significant amount of money, often borrowed, to buy fertilizer and millet seeds, which needed to be planted ahead of the rains. There were many ways to lose this wager. A delayed monsoon likely would cause the seeds to bake and die in the ground. Or if the rain fell too hard before the seedlings took root, it might wash them all away.
"Our lives are wrapped up in the rain," explained a woman named Anusayabai Pawar, using a countrywoman's version of Marathi, the regional language. "When it comes, we have everything. When it doesn't, we have nothing."
In the meantime, everyone kept scanning the empty sky. "Like fools," said an older farmer named Yamaji Pawar, sweating beneath his white Nehru cap, "we just sit here waiting."
If the people of Satichiwadi once believed the gods controlled the rain, they were starting to move beyond that. Even as they carried betel nuts and cones of incense up to the goddess's temple, even as one by one the village women knelt down in front of the stone idol that represented her, they seemed merely to be hedgingtheir bets. Bhaskar Pawar, a sober-minded, mustachioed farmer in his 30s, sat on one of the low walls of the temple, watching impassively as his female relatives prayed. "Especially the younger people here understand now that it's environmental," he said.