The Rain Man!

THAKUR PRASAD, chief of the Colaba Weather Bureau, is the man who gives Mumbai its daily weather report. His is a 24-hour job, he said. Except during the winter and the summer, when he takes a breather, he told INDIRA RODERICKS.

THAKUR PRASAD, director of the Colaba Weather Bureau, had a genuine grievance. He wanted to get it off his chest before settling down to talk about himself and the south-west monsoon. He complained that for four months in the year, which are the "rain months", he is hounded by every publication in Bombay for weather reports. Reporters call him up early in the morning and late at night, depending on whether they are working for afternoon newspapers or morningers, and ask him for rain forecasts, rainfall figures, temperatures and humidity. He did not mind giving them the information and figures. That was his job. Mr. Prasad wanted to know what happened to these telephone reporters during the rest of the year. "I am forgotten as soon as the rains stop," he said almost sadly.

Which, unfortunately for him, is quite true. Newspapers do serious weather reports only between June and September. "Even if there is no rain, I am asked questions like will the skies be clear and sunny or the seas rough and choppy," he said. And Mr. Prasad can provide all the answers.

He's not some astrologer who with a lot of hocus-focus and humbug predicts rain or shine. As director of the Regional Meteorological Office at Navy Nagar - which is a large and sprawling complex located a little ahead of R. C. Church in Colaba - he is Bombay's reliable weatherman.

The meteorological office building has been in existence since the 1850s, and that makes it a heritage structure. It looks like a weather bureau all right. The complex has satellite dishes on the lawns, radars on the terrace, and measuring units in enclosed places. However, this is a restricted area. And Mr. Prasad is not likely to welcome sightseers unless there on official work.

His own office is on the ground floor near the entrance of the building. Often you won't find him there, he will be next door, looking at weather charts and satellite pictures and plotting the progress of the south-west monsoon. Or in the leafy, wind-blown gardens of the weather bureau measuring the day's rainfall. As director of the place, he lives on the complex itself -- in comfortable quarters at the back of the office building. Which means that if there is an emergency, he can be found around the corner quite literally. "This is not a five-day or six-day job. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job," he explained. "Never mind if I live nearby, I have to be around all the time, especially during the monsoons." His day begins at 9.30 a.m. but the newspapers start calling him from around 7.45 in the morning, and continue until 8.30 p.m. That's when the last 24 hours' temperatures, rainfall, etc., etc, is released by the Weather Bureau.

Unlike in other offices, here no review meetings are held. Once Mr. Prasad gets to the office, he takes stock of the situation, and studies the weather pattern in the city and the state during the night. A section of the staff at the office are on a constant 24-hour duty -- monitoring the satellite pictures and measuring the rainfall. "During the mornings, I get a lot of telephone calls from newspapers and citizens enquiring about the weather. Citizens have the option of calling 1717 - the Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) which gives the caller an update of the weather," he said.

Sometimes if there is an emergency, like a cyclonic storm is approaching, then the state government and the municipal corporation are informed. They in turn will relay the news to All India Radio, Doordarshan, the FM Radio Channels as well as the rest of the television networks. But these are rare events, as the city has for many years not experienced a cyclonic storm.

If his schedule is not too busy, he goes back home for lunch, that's between 1.30 p.m to 2 p.m. After that it's back to the office until 6 p.m. when it officially shuts. Although Mr. Prasad leaves too, he returns to the office at 8 p.m. and stays there until 9 p.m. "During the day we get two main weather reports. One at 8.30 a.m. and the other at 7.30 p.m. Though weather updates are continuously coming in, these are when the two major reports are filed."

Periodically, maps signifying rainfall around the state are designed and filed. "Various colour codes are used to indicate normal, excess, deficit or scarce rainfall. With the assistance of these maps we are able to denote the kind of monsoon we are experiencing."

The main office of the meteorological department is in Delhi. Then there are regional offices in the three metros - Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, as well as offices in Nagpur and Guwahati. And a Deputy Director General of Meteorology oversees the functioning of all of them.

Although Mr. Prasad has been appointed Director a few years ago, he has been working at the meteorological office since 1994 in various departments. Ask him if he is happy with his job and he says, "Of course I am. But it's not my job which is important, but the service that this department renders. We give more prominence to the department, not to the individuals who run it."