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Whatever happened to spring and autumn?

delhi Updated: Jun 13, 2007 18:48 IST
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Whatever happened to the spring and autumn of yore? An entire generation has grown up without experiencing the divine weather of these two seasons. There was a time when winter gradually gave way in March to spring that stretched through to April, the summer gently settling in later that month. Pre-monsoon showers would begin in mid-June, the full-blown rains falling from July through August.

September in those days was pretty sticky but there was October to look forward to for its wonderous autumn, which by November would give way to winter.

Thus, there was adequate time to prepare for the summer and the winter.

Now, the year begins with a chilly winter that rather abruptly gives way to a blistering summer in April after a very brief period that some term as spring. Post summer comes the monsoon in late June, followed by a brief sticky period in September and then, after a break, it is winter all over again.

Meteorologists attribute this not to global warming but to the declining gap between the maximum and minimum temperatures on any given day.

They point out that while the maximum Delhi ever recorded was 47 degrees Celsius in the early part of the 20th century, temperatures this year have hovered just below 45 degrees. At the same time, the minimum has been as high as 37 degrees, and hence the oppressive feeling we experience.

What does this translate into?

I remember a time when I was in my final year in school, 39 years ago. The principal decreed we would have to forgo our summer vacation for extra tuitions. Most of us groaned - but I loved it!

The reason was simple. At a certain point in the journey to school, the bus I would travel in would pass a large open ground and a blast of cold - yes, cold - air would sweep through the vehicle. One has to experience this to understand that brief, blissful moment.

This is not to say that it wasn't hot during the summer. It certainly was but not of the oppressive variety we experience today.

In the old days, the mornings were cool and the heating of the day was gradual. Around 5 in the evening, as the sun prepared to set, the coolness returned once again. So cool was it that those households fortunate enough to have access to their rooftops would empty buckets and buckets of water, lay out their cots and promptly drop off to sleep in the naturally air-conditioned environment!

In those days too, air-conditioners were an unheard of luxury and water coolers were a rarity - as were refrigerators in most middle-class households.

Even so, it was hardly a problem for those who had to sleep indoors. All one had to do was open the windows wide, turn the overhead fan to max and bingo! You were assured of a good night's rest.

These days, barring rare exceptions, the mornings begin warm, the oppressiveness increases as the day progresses and the temperature is only marginally lower even in the darkest hour before dawn.

So, for those intrepid enough to sleep out in the open, it's not only a question of beating the heat but the swarms of mosquitoes whose sole purpose seems to be to conduct raids to suck your blood.

In those days, for a brief period in summer, there was also the 'loo', a blistering desert wind that blew in from the Rajasthan desert. Daft as it might sound, we looked forward to it for it was said the hotter the loo the sweeter would be the watermelons that were grown along the banks of the Yamuna.

Today, the loo has gone due to the lower speeds at which the wind sweeps in from Rajasthan. The watermelons are still there, but not as ubiquitous as they used to be.

But, then, it must be said that the young of today are, in a manner of speaking, better "equipped" to deal with the heat.

There are shopping malls, the multiplexes and even the Metro Rail to escape into to beat the sun. One group of youngsters has also found a rather unique way to beat the heat - by playing golf.

But these are the fortunate few. Consider the plight of the elderly and of those who have to travel by commuter buses and auto rickshaws - and of those who drive these vehicles. Consider also the fate of the mass that lives on the streets.

Hitherto, the government has been running night shelters for them during winter, when they are provided with blankets to keep the cold away. Given the way the weather is heading, the authorities might have to contemplate a similar arrangement during summer.

When, oh when will the horrendous heat end?

(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in )