Winter in Delhi is many things. Bitterly cold, sun-less and bleak for the most part it can be an unhappy time for many. For me though, the city shrouded in mist is a happier place. Happier than the Delhi of April and May – when bathing defeats its own purpose and the tarred roads melting in protest, stick to your shoes. Happier than the city in monsoon when complaints are rife of potholes and puddles. No. Winter is relief.
And what an entrance it makes! Easing its way into our lives with a shudder here and a shiver there. Not like spring that reminds of the oppressive summer heat lurking ahead. Long hot days give way ever so gently to shorter days when the cool air brings goosebumps on bare arms. Night sneaks up on the day and the light fades dutifully. The sun doesn’t hurt anymore – its warmth spreading deliciously over skin bare now but soon to be hidden under warm layers. Soon instead of the once-a-week Chocobar, it’s warm smoky peanuts and seeking out the un-earthly pleasure of cracking their crunchy shell under thumb and forefinger. The city is changes its hues – Tilak Marg will be flanked by a skeletal army of trees. Trees that jealously kept out the sun, now filter its rays and create winter ephemera.
Like I said winter in Delhi is many things.
It is the billowing white mist from my mouth. It is layers of wooly pleasure – scarves, gloves, multi-coloured socks, shawls, sweaters, stockings and neck warmers. It is going to lodhi garden to watch the dogs play and laze around in the fickle sun - just like everyone else. It is huddling in an auto sharing a shawl while the wind makes light of your chattering teeth. It is waking up in the dark (when we were young) to go to school. It is a bonfire of dry leaves that dies out almost as soon as it is lit. It is the haze that hangs low on the empty streets at night and the halo that crowns the tall lights along the way. It is dahlias and chrysanthemums. It is lumpy quilts wrap around frigid toes and a frosty nose. It is sun-kissed mornings and plump oranges with tangerine jewels. It is the smell of freshly washed woolens and their fuzzy warmth baking in the sun. It is fallen leaves crackling underfoot and the smell of wood smoke.
To me winter in this city will always smell of burning leaves. Perhaps it is because until a few years ago these autumnal-discards were burnt in neat little piles along the roadside. The pungent acrid smell tickled the back of my throat. But mixed with the winter air, it felt cold but smelt of warmth. A warm woody fragrance that would get into my clothes if I got close enough to these winter pyres.
R shares my joy for the cold season. And though hers is a sartorial obsession we were equally excited about the steadily dipping mercury. One evening as we sat in auto speeding down Siri Fort road, considering the nip in the air with apt concentration R said something…..wonderful.
Don’t you think people seem a lot friendlier in winter?
Hmm. Why do you say that?
All this road rage and rabblerousing….it’s because in the summer everyone is so hot and bothered. But in winter…it’s so cold that people can’t be bothered about sticking their noses out of their monkey caps, let alone open their mouths to say something vile.
….I think you’re on to something.
I can’t wait for it to get so cold that my knuckles get jammed! says R here eyes the size of saucers. Hey, move over so I can get under your shawl. My nose is cold.
As we cowered in oner corner of the auto almost cheek-to-cheek with bare chested Sallu bhai, I caught a whiff of wood-smoke from a park nearby. Winter had warmed my heart yet again.