Friday, May 11, 2012

Delhi In May: Summery Treats

The long summer has two distinct phases in Delhi, a dry one followed by a humid one. The month of May typically falls in the dry phase that is marked by hot, dry winds blowing in from the arid plains of neighbouring Rajasthan. For most of this month, the sun beats down mercilessly on the hapless residents of the capital, sending them scurrying for cover every now and then. The temperatures are high, the days are hot, the long afternoons unbearably hotter, and the nights are pretty warm. Add to that the frequent power cuts and you have the recipe for a perfect "potato in a pressure cooker" experience. The water coming out of your taps or showers is hotter than you would want it to be. Mind you, this is without using any kind of heating. The overhead storage tanks are normally located on the terrace and that is the reason why the water is already hot. So, if one wants a cooler bath, it is a good idea to fill a bucket with tap water and let it stand for some time before using.

If you dare to step out in this hostile weather, some wonderful visual treats are sure to greet you. The tree-lined avenues are adorned with the golden showers of the Indian Laburnum (Cassia fistula, amaltas) and the fiery canopy of the Flame Tree (Royal Poinciana, Delonix regia, gulmohar). Together, they paint the town red and gold. It is amazing how the trees that you barely noticed a few months ago, are now all aglow with the most magnificent look they wear especially for the summer. The abundant cheerfulness of the yellow and the overwhelming luxuriance of the red are truly spectacular.

Another yellow treat dominates the fruit markets. It is the king of fruits, the mango. Mostly yellow, the mango sports different shades of red, pink and green. It comes in a number of varieties, having different sizes and shapes. Fruit shops display glistening piles of this wonderful fruit, its unmistakable aroma tempting shoppers to buy some. Delhi, being in the North, gets chausa, dasheri and langda varieties of the fruit. But, it is also the capital of India and is home to people from other parts of the country as well as a big diplomatic community from all over the world. So, one or more of varieties such as neelam, kesar, banganapalli, sindoora can also be found in some select markets. The venerable alphonso from Ratnagiri is one of the most coveted, the langda from Varanasi being a close contender. Neatly packed boxes of alphonso occupy places of pride in fruit shops across the city. Produce of the cheaper, local variety is often strewn on the floor, making it easier for buyers to pick some of their choice. Aam (common) or khaas (special), we can say that an aam (mango) is always khaas (special)!

The schools are closed for the summer. The discomfort and high temperatures notwithstanding, Delhi receives many visitors during these holidays. Some are on their way up North to the hills. Others visit relatives with a view to do some sightseeing in and around Delhi. Many weddings are planned during these days. Naturally, they bring outstation guests to the city. A popular place to take your guests out is the India Gate lawns. Families can be seen camping there with picnic baskets after sunset. The sprawling lawns provide people with a breath of fresh air in the oppressive heat of the summer. Children can run around and have their favourite ice cream from one of the numerous ice cream carts lining the lawns. There are people selling balloons, potato chips and other small toys or eatables all around. The place is a good hangout, staying alive late into the night. A little earlier in the evening, the sound and light show at the Red Fort is a nice option too.

As is always the case, the not-so-privileged ones bear the brunt of extreme weather conditions, be it in a city, small town or village. Delhi is no exception. The soaring temperatures coupled with scarcity of water can be hard for anybody. For the homeless living on the fringes of the society, these are trying times. But then, which aren't?

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