Tuesday, 23 October 2012

On surprises, elephants and counting oneself lucky

My last post was a bit gloomy, so I'm putting up a quick one to reassure everyone that I don't hate Delhi, honestly. In fact I'm feeling quite well-disposed towards it just now, largely because it's finally, finally starting to cool down a bit. In fact today we had an unexpected afternoon rainstorm and when I walked outside my office it was actually lovely - cool, crisp, with that post-rain tang in the air...just perfect. I stood there breathing deeply for a good three or four minutes (breathing in goodness knows how much particulate matter, but let's skate over that), no doubt making the security guards think I am completely barmy.

Well, actually they already think I am completely barmy, due to the ongoing saga of The Foreigner Who Can't Make Up His Mind When He Wants His Lunch, but I'll save that for another day. Anyway, the point is, beautiful, cool, refreshing evening ensued. It's been a very long time since I've been able to say that. So that was a nice surprise.

Delhi does spring nice surprises on you every now and then. Like this one, which was outside my front door when I left the house a couple of weeks ago:

In case any of you are thinking that elephants are an everyday sight in Delhi, they're not. As evidenced by the fact that the cluster of locals on the right of the photo were every bit as fascinated as I was (which made me feel a bit less like a gawking foreigner). I think this was perhaps the third one I've seen in the city. They're still used as beasts of burden, but it's not surprising that these days the alternatives seem rather more practical. Still, no JCB was ever as photogenic as this.

If elephants are a rare sight in the city, its animal life is still quite extraordinary for someone like me (for whom "urban wildlife" consists of mangy pigeons, the odd fox and the dead rat I had to scrape off my patio a couple of summers back). In Delhi you're as likely to see parrots as pigeons, and while I'm sure there are rats aplenty they get less attention than the frankly vicious monkeys that inhabit the trees and rooftops. I count myself lucky not to have seen any snakes, and the worst thing I've had in my flat (apart from the notorious termites) have been a few medium-sized cockroaches. Alas, my resident population of geckos have vanished (I hope they moved out, but I suspect the pest control methods used to get rid of the termites may have been somewhat apocalyptic in nature).

And if none of those beasties appeals, there are always Delhi's stray dogs, who seem almost as numerous as the people. I was a bit intimidated by them at first, but they are in general surprisingly docile. The worst thing is the fact that so many of them are missing a limb - the consequence, I presume, of their rather foolish habit of going to sleep at full stretch by the side of roads down which Delhi drivers hurtle on a regular basis. One of them has been adopted by the security guards at our office and regularly plonks himself down at the bottom of the steps at the entrance; I've got used to taking a big stride when leaving the building to avoid treading on him. Indeed it seems like most of the city's injured canines are adopted by someone or other - it's hard to imagine they would last long against the competition if they weren't - which is a rather endearing feature of city life.

It's easy, when you are busy with your working day and regular routine, to focus on those aspects of the city that frustrate and irritate, and to overlook the things that make you smile. But no doubt when I come to leave here, I'll look back on the time when I found an elephant outside my front door and reflect that it's not a circumstance I'm ever likely to experience again. It may seem a silly thing, but it does remind me how lucky I am to have the chance to experience a place so completely different from my home, even with all its challenges.

Anyway, autumn is here, the days are warm, and the streets of Defence Colony have acquired a sun-dappled hush (in between the honks). It's a good time to be in Delhi.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The summer that never ends

Readers in the UK might see the title of this post and think "how lovely". Make no mistake, this is not going to be a lovely post. This is going to be a big old moan about Delhi's climate. Yes, I know I've been silent for two months and it's not good form to return on a whinge. I don't care. The weather in Delhi is to a large degree to blame for my failure to write anything since August, and it's about time I just said it out loud so we can both move on (hopefully, into a nice chilly winter).

I am sick and tired of this summer.

It is now seven months since the temperatures rose to what I would term largely uncomfortable. Admittedly for some of that time I was out of India, thanks to visa complications, but for the sake of rhetoric I will disregard that. Seven months of being perpetually sweaty. Seven months of attempting to sleep to the lullaby of my geriatric AC system or else lying spreadeagled on the bed feeling beads of moisture trickle down my forehead onto the pillow. And seven months of getting gradually, progressively, inexorably, more and more exhausted.

I don't know how people do this every year of their lives. I've never been so tired. OK, my job is fairly responsible, involves a lot of multitasking and a fair amount of travel, but on the other hand I'm not exactly working 18 hours shifts in the Emergency room. I shouldn't come home at the end of the working day with barely enough energy to open my front door. I shouldn't wake up in the morning after 10 hours of sleep feeling like I've had three. Doing something I love (recently, singing with my choir or making a short mostly-Hindi-language film with friends, which involved standing around on roadsides a lot and not understanding anything about the plot) shouldn't feel like an impossible demand designed to wring out the very last drop of enthusiasm from my mangled get-up-and-go. But that's how I feel right now.

Maybe it's not just the weather. Maybe it's Delhi - the traffic, the crowds, the pace of life, and all those other things that you have to deal with here. Maybe I just need a holiday (a proper one, rather than snatched long weekends which, although terrific fun, are not all that effective as a restorative). But my heart says that I just need to spend some time in temperatures well below 30 degrees C for a while.

I've lived through the Delhi summer before, but when I arrived last year it was already mid-June. This year, breaks aside, I've been here for the entire seven months. I think my body's just caved in. I'm not designed to cope with these temperatures for this long. Hell, I don't think anyone is.

So, the last couple of months have been marked by a feebleness unmatched by anything I've experienced since I was hooked up to a dozen medical machines as a 4 month old with meningitis. Since this has coincided with the recruitment of my team (finally!) and the corresponding increase in my workload (I'm sure that's not how it's supposed to go, but it has) it's left me unfit for much in the evenings beyond staring open-mouthed (and quite possibly dribbling) at YouTube videos of 1980s English cooking shows. I wish I was kidding about this.

I exaggerate but a little. To be honest, I've actually spent a lot of the last couple of months thinking about a whole ton of things and how India has changed my perspective on them. I haven't yet reached a sufficient degree of lucidity to blog about them yet. I hope that the cooler weather just around the corner (please, Lord, please) will let me do so. But for as long as summer keeps its gnarly hands grasped round October's throat, my productivity is more or less confined to the working day.