April may be the cruellest month, but today is definitely the shortest day — not to mention the longest night — of the year. We should be lucky that December 22 has fallen on a weekend in 2007. Clearly, you remember last year when it fell on a Friday and how our hearts sank when we realised that leaving office at the usual time felt like working overtime many hours over (minus extra pay)? The fancy-smanshies have a name for today — winter solstice. That’s the name for the event to describe our part of the earth being tilted from the sun so far away that the amount of sunlight we can enjoy is the smallest during the year. Funnily enough, this maximum distance from the sun will occur when we should be still in a moderately cheery mood — at about 11 am. The length of the day in Delhi will be a paltry 10 hours, 19 minutes and 13 seconds — considerably less than the 10 hours, 59 minutes and 32 seconds in Mumbai and surprisingly even less than the 10 hours, 45 minutes, 7 seconds in Kolkata. (It’s about the longitude and real local time silly!) And if that doesn’t make your life suddenly seem short and small, then know that the sun in the capital of India sets at the unhealthy time of 5.29 pm today. Not quite Transylvania but Delhiites, be warned.
So what is it about the shortest day that makes the best of us feel gloomy? Seasonal Affective Disorder — or the aptly acronym-ised Sad — is not some neat name for winter blues that we have just come up with. Sad is a disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. Linked to melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, Sad may be the reason why we are likely to make today, December 22, our crankiest day of the year.
But do thank your lucky stars that you’re not living in, say, Swedish Lapland. The whole 24 hours that is December 22 will be one long sunless night. But even sitting here, the gloom can be infectious. Thus the man-made business of celebrations that include Id-ul-Fitr and the run-up to Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve — not to mention the actual days of Christmas and New Year themselves. Also, the bleakness associated with the shortest day today could also explain why when you wake up tomorrow — if you’re the type who rises with the sun, that’ll be 6.13, 7.08 and 7.10 in Kolkata, New Delhi and Mumbai respectively — you’ll start to feel chippier. You’ll feel the sandclock being tipped over and the days starting to get gloriously longer again till June 21. So what if it’s a crummy Thursday next year.