Delhi Summer

As the Delhi summer rides in, it scatters us, the weak, right back into our little caves. We prepare for the summer as if for a siege. I personally start with a prayer, for I know that there are forces beyond hope and good planning that will be needed to keep the electricity and water running through the searing months in this rough town.

Rooms are prepared for the coming months. Bedsheets and bedcovers are cool, old and soft. A splash of bright colour, often in defiance to the brilliance outside. Soft pillow covers, in what used to be pristine white, but now a faded ivory that holds the stories of years of restless midnight punches and shuffles, as one hunts for that elusive cool spot. Curtains are thick and drawn, rooms darkened. We hide behind more than one, the outermost part of most houses are sheeted in green netting that protects our gardens and potted plants from the scorch that allows nothing to survive. Then, come the traditional bamboo chiks – large sheets of stiff curtain that are rolled up only when the evening breeze stirs. We stay still, quiet, indoors, till the sun has had its way and gone. The sound of the air-condtioner and the fan, our constant companion, nay, protector, in summer’s face have replaced the soft, insistent clack-clack of grandmother’s rotating hand fan.

Our clothes are soft, light, bright – in appeasement and defiance – in alternate measure. Our food stores full of dry goods, thankfully it is too hot for the basics to go bad as they do in the monsoon. It is too hot for mosquitoes, they are driven away out of existence by the excessive heat. Nothing weak lives, only a few can survive this. Our water drums are filled, and preparations made for scarcity. Few of us, with memories of tougher times, fill them for fear of water supplies drying up. Rations, after all, were not so long ago. Even now, the news brings stories of some areas not getting water for a week, for two, for half. We prepare. But even the young, the secure with their own gated colonies and ‘guaranteed’ water supplies that drain the water table for the entire city know this – the only cool water for the bath is going to be what you store. Taps are connected to overhead water storage tanks that bear the full brunt of the sun, the water as hot, or hotter than one can bear on ordinary skin. We plan for the seige of the sun, and the battle lines are drawn.

Till we begin to wonder at ourselves. Delhi is a land of fighters, and we are not used to being nobbled in this manner. To be cowardly just to be cool, feels a bit uncool. We are the land of the flexed muscle, the brief battle, the quick win and the celebration after. We live for our laughter, and quiet dark rooms are certainly not our thing. We look at the workers, their routines remain unchanged, even as they vary their timings. And we decide, we will not be beat. Delhi was often looted, but never won or lost. Delhi always rose again, and with it rose the sounds and smells of laugher and good food. Out come the crisp cottons, the dhakai sarees, the swaying kurtis, the silver jhumkis, the black as thunder kajal outlining defiant eyes as they stepped out dazzling in the bright sunshine. The men too, for nothing can be allowed to wilt when it comes to us versus the sun. We stand as tall and strong as any other. The watering holes buzz, as they never have before. We hold up standards, and summer fashions match the best in the world. Sarojini buzzes, but now there is more, as e-commerce brings us the perfect handbag, and dress right to our doorstep, just in time for the party at the farmhouse, or that shared workspace now a bar. Walkers claim the morning cool. Ice-creams and gol-gappas break through the heat of the evening. On the hottest days, even marked by tradition, thousands are served free cold lassi to beat the killer heat. We even wed each other in this weather, for when ‘arrangements’ have been made, even the primal gods are but participants.

Through all this, it is the tall triumvirate that holds my spirits up. The bougainvillea, the gulmohar and the amaltaas. The delicate leaved bougainvillea that pretends to be so weak, that it cannot stand on it’s own slender stem survives it all, blushing and blooming in heady defiance as it climbs onwards, as far as it can. The red and orange Gulmohar tree, it’s crown rising far above the sultry town, claiming the right to hold its own regardless of the odds. And the amaltaas, it’s flowers dripping gold off bright yellow chandeliered flowers, as if nothing can stop the goodness. They lay down a carpet of pink, red, orange, yellow and gold for me to walk on. With these flowers as canopy, and as carpet, one knows, that there is no siege but in the mind. It is ours to walk on and win.