I moved from Mumbai to Delhi last April. And in all that time since, I never missed Mumbai as much as I did over the last ten days or so. I’ve just taken up a new assignment that requires me to step out of the house at seven in the morning, and with only the vapours from my mouth for company, I’ve been negotiating the Delhi winter with the ‘winter clothing’ that I had originally bought in Mumbai some half a dozen years ago, on a whim and a sale.
If you talk to non-resident Dilliwalas, they will wax eloquent about the ‘Delhi winter’ – as much if not more than how Mumbaikars romanticise their monsoons. But reality has a way of pouring cold water (pardon the double pun) on warm hallucinations of nostalgia.
Just as Mumbai’s monsoons mean flooding, traffic jams, and disruption of the local trains, Delhi’s winter means extreme fog, clothes that don’t dry, and a bone-chilling cold that leaves your brain frozen in mid-thought.
Please don’t think I am exaggerating – as I’m writing this, 233 people have perished already to the cold wave sweeping north India. Last week, the temperature was 0.7 degrees in Gurgaon – which is my commuting destination. In fact, yesterday, outside the Huda City Centre metro station, at half past six in the evening, there was half a kilometre long queue of shivering men waiting to get in through the security check.
Yours truly was one of those, and I consoled myself by thinking of the Labrador I passed on the way – it was wearing just a single piece of woollen ‘jacket’ wrapped around its belly. Its face was uncovered, its ears were uncovered, its tail was uncovered – I couldn’t believe the poor animal was warm enough in this ‘dress’ bang in the middle of a Delhi chill that is reported to be the “harshest and longest in 40 years.”
Everywhere you go, you see men in street corners huddled around bonfires created from leaves, twigs and garbage. And then, of course, there is the fog – which becomes a part of the landscape, and even occupies your living room. I don’t know how – but last week, I was sitting in the living room watching TV and suddenly I could only hear Arnab Goswami and not see him anymore. Then I realised it was the fog, and the television set was enveloped in it.
This never happened to me in Mumbai, though. When it comes to winter, the maximum city becomes the minimum city – it knows how to offer a human being a finely calibrated winter: cold enough to deliver days that are perceptibly cooler and more attractive than summer, but not so vastly different in terms of temperature that you have to invest in a whole new wardrobe.
When I moved to Delhi, I had with me just one sweater – that too with a hole in it, most likely made by a Bambaiyya rat tasting wool for the first time in its life. This apology of a sweater probably did less for me than what the ‘wrap’ did for the Lab.
Then on December 31st, we decided to go for the ‘Take Back the Night’ protest at PVR Saket, and it was so cold, so cold, that we took a detour to a nearby market to get some really solid overcoats and thermal wear for each of us. Now my wife wants to segregate all my clothes into two sets: ‘summer wear’ and ‘winter wear’. Honestly, I used to think that only fashion designers dealt with stuff like ‘summer collection’ and ‘winter collection’. Now I have one of each too – that’s what Delhi forces upon you, whether you like it or not.
But come to think of it, what is the purpose of winter? Basically, to give us a little respite from the heat and sweat of summer. Mumbai, whose default climate setting is summer, has got this sorted out. When its summer gets rainfall, they call it the monsoons. And when the monsoon is finished, summer resumes. It is only December-January that gives well-heeled Mumbaikars some excuse to try out their ‘winter collections’. As for me, when I was in Mumbai, my ‘winter collection’ was simply to wear a T-shirt beneath a shirt, and that was enough to keep me warm.
But I am in Delhi now, and I am going to stop this column right here because I can’t type with the gloves on and my fingers are freezing.
G Sampath is Executive Editor, People Matters. He’s reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org