476 THE INDIAX EMAPIRE [CHAP.
Off the land, but dependent on it, are millions of agricultural
labourers, the vast majority of whom have only casual employ-
ment and are thrown out of work when harvests fail. Thus,
the masses of the Indian people depend upon the harvests,
and these depend upon a periodic, but by no means regular,
The two The two rain-bearing currents are (r) the south-west mon-
monsoons. soon, commonly called the monsoon or the rains, and (2) the
so-called north-east monsoon, the period of which is marked
in North-Western India by what are commonly called 'the
winter rains.' The agricultural year commences with the
former, which is the more important of the two.
South-west For a month or two before the rains the land has rest over
monsoon the greater part of India. The heat is intense, the soil is
autumn baked, ploughing is impossible, and the people sit in their
harvest. villages literally gasping for rain. The monsoon bursts in
June, and dies away at the end of September or beginning of
October. After the first heavy shower, ploughing begins, and
the autumn harvest (kharif), which provides the year's food
for the poorer classes, viz. millets and rice, is sown. It
occupies the ground for from two to four months, during
which period the distribution of the rainfall is even more im-
portant agriculturally than its amount. A long break in the
rains and hot dry winds cause serious loss; excessive rain
produces floods; and continuous rain interrupts work in the
fields. On fine days the people are very busy: the autumn
harvest requires two or three weedings, and the land reserved
for the spring harvest is ploughed many times. Weeding,
ploughing, and harvesting employ millions of labourers.
North-east In October or November, the spring harvest (rabi) is sown.
monsoon Wheat, barley, pulses, and the more valuable non-food crops'
spring are grown in the north; the larger millets predominate in the
harvest. south of India. The so-called north-east monsoon breaks on
the east coast in November or December2, while the winter
rains fall in the north from Christmas on to February. The
spring are less precarious than the autumn crops. But heavy
or prolonged rain, accompanied by east winds, causes rust in
the wheat and barley; and premature hot west winds shrivel
up the swelling grain. Harvesting begins in March and April,
Opium, tobacco, oilseeds, &c.
2 As will be seen from the Meteorology chapter (Vol. I, chap. iii), the
rainfall which is so important in Eastern Madras in November and December
is really due to the retreat of the south-west monsoon current. The north-
east monsoon proper is not established till the end of December.