The winter blues


Im writing this on Monday evening in an internet caf in Nizamuddin Basti, a 14th century urban village in Delhi, famous for a sufi shrine that gives its name to the neighbourhood. It is late November. Very soon, the doors leading to the tomb of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya will close not at 10 pm, the usual time, but half an hour earlier. This will mean that winter has finally arrived in Delhi.

The same night, a few hours later, it may rain. The temperature may drop, making the security guards in the residential apartments of Patparganj, a middle-class haven across the Yamuna, shiver in their guardrooms. In suburban Dwarka, less congested than most of Delhi, it will be colder still. The morning after will bring a change to the city scenery. A feeble layer of mist will settle over the Yamuna. The river, or whatever is left of it, will no longer be seen.

Mild fog will waft past the Red Fort, turning it into something as fantastical as the Tsarist castles of Russian fairy tales. Meanwhile, the BMWs of south Delhi will effortlessly slice through the icy air on the gentle slope of Moolchand flyover. The people on the pavement underneath will gather around a makeshift bonfire.

The autorickshaw-wallahs will drape themselves in blankets and their cash-starved customers will decide to show off their previous years Benetton pullovers. Dilli ki sardi will not even spare the view of citys buses. In the winter mist, their steel edges will lose their sharpness, making them as blurry as the memory of last weeks liaison.

In Lodhi Garden, Delhis answer to Lawrence Garden, the gates will close at 8pm, unlike in summers at 9pm. Senior bureaucrats, perhaps close to the Prime Minister, will continue with their morning walk, well shielded from the chill in multi-layered cardigans and sport jackets. But in Paharganjs Main Bazaar, a popular destination for foreign tourists, German backpackers will still be seen half-naked. This, possibly, is the best time for them. These foreigners from cold climes may wear the Delhi winter lightly round their shoulders, but we Delhiwallas are respectful. And glad, too.

In winter, the Capital creates an illusion of less aggression. People seem to be less hostile. The city takes a break from itself. Delhi ceases to be Delhi.

The sun, too, takes a breather. At noon, if you are at Central Park in Connaught Place, you will find the sun hiding behind the imposing Jeevan Bharti Complex building shining as palely as a worn-out penny. What relief, say those, who cannot easily forgive the tyrannies of the summer sun. But these winter joys are transient. Soon, the chill will become hateful. The fog will irritate and may even prove to be life threatening for a lost biker at India Gate.

The freezing air will slap you on the face. The city, under a grey sky, will become a wretched place. Several bleary-eyed people will skip their morning shower and come out not smelling of roses. And one chilly winter night, you may start pining for summer.

December will be worse. In the wet iciness of cold, fog will block the sunlight and trees will wilt. So will the city.

The gloomy December will give way to a hopeful January. Someday during the second half of that month, the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya will be all yellow. It will be the eve of Basant Panchmi, the day that marks the arrival of spring. Hence yellow, the colour of the energy-giving sun. The shrines qawwals will drape yellow scarves on their shoulders. They will offer yellow mustard flowers on the grave of the sufi saint. Later, they will sing the Hindi qawwalis of Amir Khusro, the Persian poet believed to be the originator of Hindustani classical music, and who was also a great disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin. Seven centuries ago, Khusro had worn yellow to bring a smile to Hazrat Nizamuddin, whod been grieving for his nephews death. The tradition of wearing yellow in the shrine on Basant has been observed since then. That day, the winter will officially end in Delhi.

The following month, February, will bring blue sky, bright flowers and less cold air. Holi, the festival of colours, will be celebrated in March. April will be warmer. Come May and Delhi will come into its own. Dust winds, road rage, white sky will force quite a few to flee to London and Simla. The hippie hostelries of Paharganj, too, will go empty. In the Tibetan refugee camp of Majnu ka Teela, cheeks will turn rosier and the visiting relatives will return to the cooler Lhasa

Isnt it tempting to get homesick for such a summers night in today’s chilly evening? But when December, January, February, March, April gives way to May, we will once again crib, cry and moan that such garmi was never experienced before. Then well want the heat and humidity of June, July, August, September, October to quickly give way to the cold of November and December. Such is the cycle of seasons. Tell me if its the same story in Lahore.

The writer is a Delhi-based writer and photographer. He runs a blog called Pakistan Paindabad and he can be contacted at [email protected]