Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Delhi In September : Stuffy, Sultry And Sticky

September is thankfully the last of the trio of the most unbearable months in the nation's capital. It is hard to classify this month under any particular season, for it is nothing but a continuation of the seemingly unending spell of heat coupled with humidity. Residents of Delhi who survive three long months of dry summer followed by another three months of muggy summer wait eagerly for September to end, hoping to see some light at the end of the dark tunnel. It does rain at times, but not so much as it did in August. The cloud cover disappears and most of the times, the sun shines brightly, sometimes fiercely over weary Delhiites. The inhospitable weather comes as a rude shock to people visiting Delhi. The city is swelteringly stuffy with its trees looking lifeless and forlorn, for there is no breeze to rustle through their leaves and make them sway with happiness.

Photo by Prateek
The Mother's International School on Aurobindo Marg is an oasis of tranquillity amidst the rapidly growing urban stretches around it. Situated inside the serene Aurobindo Ashram premises, it is one of the most sought-after schools in Delhi. It is Teachers' Day and the 12th graders are decked up in colourful clothes. Girls in sarees and boys in ethnic Indian ensemble or other formals. It is their final year in school and they are playing the role of their teachers today, letting the real teachers go for an outing or a picnic. It is fun time for everybody as these young teachers 'teach' in classrooms mimicking their teachers, assume an air of authority occupying the hallowed offices of the principal and vice-principal, and enjoy an easy access to the staff rooms and other normally out-of-reach areas in the school. Surely a nice way to spend a day dedicated to teachers, marking the birthday of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, our second President and a great teacher himself. Similar activities are taking place in schools across the city and the whole country. Students are showing their appreciation for their teachers by gifting flowers and cards to them.

While it is fun and games in the idyllic world of school kids, it is not the same in the real world outside. Businesses like jewellery, catering and real estate suffer a temporary slump as people are averse to making an important purchase or having an auspicious occasion like a wedding or an engagement during 'pitrupaksha'. It is a fortnight-long period of paying respect to one's ancestors. Some people observe specific rituals, others engage in charitable activities, while the rest don't really do anything. But a large number of people desist from making a big monetary transaction or having a celebration in the family, waiting patiently for this span, more commonly called 'shradh' in Delhi to pass.

The shradh fortnight ends and then begins a very auspicious interval of nine days and nine nights called 'navaratri'. The life of Lord Rama is enacted in 'Ramlilas' through the nine nights leading to Dussehra. Most of the action takes place in Old Delhi. Ramlila Maidan is of course well known, though maybe people know it now more as the venue of Anna Hazare's fast than as the ground where Ramlilas have been happening for years. All the grounds where a Ramlila takes place, are generally abuzz with activity much before the show starts. There is a carnival-like atmosphere with food stalls, toy stalls and fun rides for children. Ramlila is a kind of folk theatre, but it is keeping up with the changing times. Lav Kush Ramlila in Delhi has a countdown counter ticking on its website and promises online live webcast of the event as the drama unfolds.

Navaratri is also the time for worshipping the Goddess in her myriad forms. Devotees throng Her temples all over Delhi. Prominent among them are the Kalkaji Mandir in Okhla Industrial Area and the Aadya Katyayani Shaktipeeth popularly known as Chhatarpur Mandir on Gurgaon-Mehrauli Road. People wait patiently in long serpentine queues to get a darshan of the heavily decorated and bejewelled idol of the Goddess. My favourite temple is the little Kamakshi Temple situated on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, bang opposite the Jawaharlal Nehru University gate. It belongs to the Kanchi Kamakoti Trust and is frequented mostly by the capital's Tamil population. It is lovely, has open areas on all the four sides and sports beautiful floral decoration around the idol. You may even chance upon some delicious lemon rice or spicy sundal if you happen to visit the temple when families take turns to distribute these goodies there.

Chittaranjan Park, Delhi's Bengali enclave is getting ready for the most awaited period of the year. The end of pitrupaksha brings Mahalaya, starting the countdown to the four most important days beginning with saptami. It is time to welcome, adore and worship Durga. It is the puja time...a time for new clothes, good food and holiday with family and friends.

Elsewhere in the country, Ganapati festival and Garba/Dandiya dances are on. But in Delhi, these celebrations are restricted to pockets where there is a concentration of Maharashtrian and Gujarati communities, not leaving their mark on the overall social/religious calendar of the city. People from all the Indian states live in Delhi and you meet a nice sprinkling of them at your school or work, but the geographical location of the city does lend it a distinct North Indian flavour, making saadi Dilli a vibrant, fun-loving metropolis.

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