Living – Those Delhi Summers

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Picture by Mayank Austen Soofi

Delhi’s wretched heat has lost its zing.

[Text by Sadia Dehlvi, picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

I must be growing old for I don’t look forward to dining out any more and since summer is not party time, the season comes a huge relief. Thankfully, there are no really happening events that one must be seen at while attempting to grab the photographers’ eye so that the illusion of belonging to the world of the bold and beautiful stays afloat.

Frankly, it is just true friends who bother to venture out to see one another in the blazing heat. Good time to discern between “friends” and “contacts”! In the frenzied networking culture of an address conscious city, the lines between the two are usually so blurred that some never discover the divide till they loose a position of authority and their friends along with it.

Delhi like most metro cities is becoming increasingly ruthless with zero tolerance levels be it with friends, stray dogs, the BRT, water or electricity supplies; the rage rises along with the temperatures.

Once upon a time, there used to be a romance about the summer and the denizens of Delhi survived quite happily in the pre-technology days. The hot noon winds were transformed into a perfumed cool breeze through dampened screens made of khus fibre. At night we slept under the starlit skies on the terrace that were doused with water each evening. Amma would then gather the motiya and raat ki raani flowers that had been plucked from the garden before sunset and place them on the charpais of all her married sons.

The flowers were taboo for us girls as Amma warned us that the fragrance would invite djinns who might become our aashiq. Rebellious as I was, one never tried to defy this rule for the prospects of a djinn lover never seemed exciting and didn’t seem worth the risk. Djinns don’t frighten me any more for having survived multiple husbands with obsessive disorders.

As the leaves of the amaltas and gulmohar trees changed their hues to fiery oranges and yellows, the aroma of sandal, unaab, bazuri, gauzaban, falsa, bel and charon maghaz sherbets filled the home. These home-made thirst quenchers were served with a spoonful of tukhme balanga to double the cooling impact. Delhiwallas have always been very particular about taseer, the effect of a food one one’s mind and body.

Some of the summer season’s fruits that one doesn’t see anymore with regular vendors are gonni, khirni, shahtoot and kaseru. I remember collecting baskets of kachnar flowers and goolars that were strewn on the city’s streets and handing them over to the cook who made delightful meals with them. In nostalgic moods I sometimes venture to old Delhi and walk around the gali-kuchas of Maliwara and Ballimaran where these vegetables and fruits are still sold.

God bless my grandmother’s soul, she used say that the city’s dry heat, dilli ki loo was healthy and that it killed the unhealthy germs in the body. Amma was no medic but like others of that generation, she resorted to nature for antidotes to the city’s high mercury levels.

Each morning as Abba headed out to work, she would hand him an onion that was sometimes strung around his neck or just kept in the shirt pocket to keep heat strokes away. If any of us got fever from the heat, raw mango was boiled and its pulp was sprinkled over the body. The remedy actually worked but surely if I ever attempted to do something similar with Arman, my fifteen year old lad, he would think I have lost the plot completely.