Sri Lankan resident shelters under an umbrella during a downpour in the capital Colombo on October 8, 2018. The Sri Lankan capital has been lashed by heavy rains causing major traffic jams throughout the city. / AFP / ISHARA S. KODIKARA Image Credit: AFP

The humble umbrella has seen many changes over the years, but its usefulness has never been in question. It shields us from the fierce rays of the sun as well as the rain, but it has its drawbacks. For example, carrying one in a bag or under the arm isn’t always convenient.

Most women find it indispensable but men prefer to walk unhampered as they project this image of the tough male who braves the elements. However, the truth in most cases here is that the only umbrellas at home are girlie ones — too colourful or with prints that scream femininity. So, they would rather leave these behind or, if the wife insists, carry one up to the car where it is relegated to the back seat.

I am an umbrella person and carry one with me wherever I go like a shield. I have often found that just the act of taking it with you means that the rain you were expecting doesn’t happen or the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds.

But I must admit that these protectors can frustrate you.

The pretty as a picture one you bought proves recalcitrant at the most inconvenient time. As you try to unfurl it, it shows you it has a mind of its own and refuses to open up. As you struggle with it, a sudden gust of wind decides to have some fun with it and the panels open up the wrong way. I am sure you all have seen a woman struggling to straighten an umbrella that is playing truant. That’s when you wistfully recall the solid black umbrella that you grew up with, but which you discarded in favour of the modern airy fairy version.

The monsoon in India has inspired umbrella makers over the years and the latest innovation from the state of Kerala is a Bluetooth-enabled one that keeps the owner connected to his or her mobile phone. This is groundbreaking news indeed in a day and age when people are so dependent on this device and cannot go anywhere without it.

The umbrella with a speaker has a knob that connects it to your mobile through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. So, just stow your phone in your pocket and talk away without worrying about your precious device getting wet. There are other models such as ones with a fan, a compass, a torch, thermometer and even one with a walking stick.

Staying over the correct head

The last mentioned comes in handy in the city where I live which has quite a sizeable population of stray dogs. Walkers can use this to fend off unwelcome canine attention.

But what really grabbed my attention was a Japanese invention — a drone-brella which offers hands-free cover. This is almost as exciting as hands-free phones, in my humble opinion. The drone-powered sunshade will hover over users, protecting them from the sun.

This is welcome news for all those who don’t like holding an umbrella as it restricts their movement. At 150cm wide, the parasol prototype weighs five kilos, and so far can fly for five minutes on one charge.

Asahi Power Service is hoping to extend flying time to at least 20 minutes. So, we might have to wait a while if we are planning long walks in the sun.

The drones are fitted with cameras that help the parasols track their owners and stay over the correct head! Nothing could be more frustrating than seeing your drone hovering over someone else’s head instead of yours.

In light of all these developments, there will be a time when rain or sun will not be able to play spoilsport any more and we can move around freely — come rain or shine.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.