Delhi In Soaring Temperatures

May 18, 2010
Deepti Lamba

Armed with umbrellas and chilled water flasks we decided to go to our local haunt, Khan Market, for some retail therapy. We stepped out of our airconditioned home into an oven of car and gasped. Heat beat against our strapped in chests and my sister squawked as she tried to hot the leather encased steering wheel.

The air conditioner was put on full blast but the car wasn't warming up. I looked out of the window and saw kids of varying ages in their uniforms dragging themselves home. They looked like dehydrated fish- gaping mouths and dazed eyes. Their bottles dragged against the dusty roads and shoulders dropped with sagging school bags. Thankfully schools were going to shut down soon but my sister told me that the school hours had been permanently shifted. Delhi kids were going to go to school early and return home early till October.

I nodded sagely. Much had changed in Delhi due to the upcoming Common Wealth Games. Delhi was being cleaned up in keeping with the typical Desi tradition of scrubbing the house clean before the advent of 'special guests'. The roads that glistened and shimmered in heat mirages were clean, the trees looked greener and there were less squatters around.

Maybe Sheila Dikshit wanted to make Delhi look like any other First World City with wider painted roads, more signals, flashy cars and of course no tonga wallahs.

But she hadn't been all that successful in her endeavours since an odd bullock cart with its turboned heat bronzed driver waited at the traffic signal alongside our car. He and his exploited bull were the touristy picture of India that the world would crazily click their digital camera at. And while they thought how exotic, we Indians would think -WTF is he still doing here? Wasn't he banned from entering the city?

Like most Indians Delhi-ites offer lip service sympathy to the poor, bemoan the squaller and use their own ancestoral refuge status to show that they too rose from the ranks of adversity and made it. But somewhere in the climb they left compassion behind or in their generosity patronised the poor.

Most American cities have a 'downtown' and if Delhi is to have a town down it would start all the way from the plush Chanakya puri area to Greater Kailash area. That is the core area that Sheila Dikshit and her cabinet are hell bent in keeping cleaning and there are no Indian hobos to be found lurking around in that area. While Rudy Giulani cleaned up Times Square our very own Sheila Dikshit cleaned up South Delhi to the best of her abilities. The Delhi concept of 'downtown' is a hype First World kind of look.

We drove under the shades of the Chanakya puri trees and reached Khan Market. Despite the heat the place was crowded and the people thronging the place were models of latest fashion. They were beautiful immaculate people- the delhi-ites who never perspire no matter how oppressive the heat.

I stepped out of the car and wondered why I continued to sweat despite the cool airconditioning of the car. I was no longer a Delhi-ite but a Bangalorean with sweat glands. We walked down the sidewalk and entered into the cool refines of the over priced shops and I told my sister that this is probably what Dubai felt like.

And she replied sagely -yes, thats what Dubai feels like. I grinned - another hallmark of a Delhi-ite. Most upwardly mobile Delhi-ites are world travelled. They are at par with the rich of the First world countries but work twice as hard for their money;P

My younger sister elbowed me for saying that and laughed in jest. Most Delhi-ites do. In and around Khan Market there were little shops tucked into nooks and crannies and there were also immigrants from Bihar and UP there manning the parking lot or acting as guards to the shops. They all looked fresh and none seemed to sweat. They had become Delhi-ites in their own ways.

We shopped quickly and ran back into the car. Plonking the bags in the back seat we again gasped. The water in the flask was no longer cold and our drive for retail therapy had also cooled some what.

There was still Karol Bagh on the check list. But neither of us had the guts to weather that blazing shopping zone and like most middle class Delhi-ites decided to either go to Select Citywalk mall or cross the border and visit Ambience Mall.

There are Delhi-ites cannot bear the heat anymore and these are also Delhi-ites of the old who were used to power cuts, fanning ourselves with newspapers at night, sleeping under the stars in our balconeys (if nothing the fear of thieves keep them in when inverters fail) and who loved their dessert coolers even in the rainy months.

And though I agree the heat is inhumane but the airconditioner and plush enviornments are no longer a novelties but necessities. Some would see it as Delhi evolving but thats still the crust of Delhi, the layering of the pie underneath is still Delhi of the old. And its the kind the Common Wealth lovers want to hide. The bullock cart riders, the occasional mahout and his elephant, the sadhus and yes even the squatters.

Once the games are over they will be back. Once the guests leave we Indians tend to go back to live the way we always did- general sloppiness and lethargy is a way of life and thats something that will sneak back soon enough.

Delhi will never be Delhi of the old but nor will it be Singapore and thank god for it!

dee.jpgDeepti Lamba is an author, besides editing at Desicritics
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