mungbean in india


Monsoon in Delhi


So the monsoon has arrived in Delhi—and the rest of the country—somewhat ahead of schedule. Which means that summer is over, and we’re now into the rainy season.  

The cooler weather is obviously a huge relief to everyone… It’s hard to believe that only 3 weeks ago it was 45 degrees, but as I write this it’s currently 25.   Last night was the first night in 2-3 months when I didn’t have to have the air conditioning on all night in my bedroom.

Surviving the summer heat was one of the challenges I’d been anticipating, but in the end it wasn’t quite as taxing as expected.  Admittedly I did spend most of May sitting in an air-conditioned office, which helps a lot.  Three weeks of 45 degrees isn’t pleasant by any means, but it’s doable, so long as you don’t try and actually do anything outside.  I became quite used to arriving at the metro station drenched in sweat (like many others), and drinking a 1.5L bottle of water in the hour it takes to get to work.

Anyway, it’s good to know that’s behind us now.  The next challenge is dealing with 3 months of heavy rain!

My fledgling roof terrace garden has also heaved a big sigh of relief, and I went out this morning to trim back all the brown leaves that had been scorched by the relentless sun.  I was looking forward to pottering about out there, especially since the skies were grey so I wouldn’t have to worry about being sun-burned, but the heavens opened late morning and we’ve had heavy rain and thunderstorms pretty much non-stop so far today.


Monsoon Chart 16 June 2013

I’ve got 2 weeks vacation coming up at the end of this week, and really not sure where to go now… there’s little point in heading somewhere if it’s going to be raining heavily.  Time for some homework.



At the risk of being repetitive, I’m going to bang on about the weather again.  Because it’s now very, very hot.

Today it was 45 degrees celsius when I took the photo above, and reportedly it reached 46 in Delhi at some point.  Slightly trumping the previous hottest temperature I had ever experienced, which was 44 in Athens (Greece) and Brindisi (Italy) when back-packing around Europe in the late 80’s.  My memory of Athens was that elderly people were dropping dead in the street—according to the media—and that I was taking two cold showers a day.

A temperature of over 40 degrees in Europe is a freak heat-wave, but in Delhi it’s fairly normal for this time of year.  And it will possibly get hotter still between now and the monsoon arriving.

The mercury has been rising steadily since I arrived here 4 months ago, but what I’ve found interesting is the qualitative change as it reaches the big four-oh.  Once it’s over 40, one of the first things I noticed is that you can feel the hot air in your nostrils.  Not warm, hot.  As it climbs even higher, you can feel your eyelids and even your eyeballs responding to the searing heat—which is also extremely dry just now.  Humidity was 8% today!

On the other hand, I think I’m getting used to it.  An important factor is how you respond to it.  Avoiding walking around outside (!) really helps—so I’ve been getting cycle-rickshaws to and from the metro station, rather than my usual walk. Paying someone Rs 20 (24p) to haul my carcass for 5 minutes rather than walking for 15 and arriving soaked in sweat is a good deal in anyone’s book.  Work days are relatively easy because I spend all day inside an air-conditioned office, except when I have to walk to another building for meetings.  Weekends are more challenging because you can’t really do much, except for heading for a nicely air-conditioned café to while away the hours.

Or sleep.  I’m doing a lot of sleeping on Saturday and Sunday afternoons these days.

The plants on my newly-acquired roof terrace aren’t bearing up quite so well.  They’re desperately in need of some shade, and I bought shade netting but haven’t yet managed to locate some local bamboo-walas so I can actually suspend it in the air with something.  I’ve been watering twice a day, and moved everything close together so that the more robust plants will provide some shade for everything else, but even so a few plants have shrivelled, presumably due to the actual heat rather than from being in the sun.


My new apartment is great.  I moved up to the second floor (from the first) around 3 weeks ago.  Unlike the 2-bed place downstairs, this one has only 1 bedroom and feels much better for what I need.  It’s also the same overall area as the flat below, but with the benefit of the roof terrace.  The main downside is the kitchen, which is tiny, and you have to go outside to reach it.  It gets absolutely hammered by the sun during the day, and being so small it gets very very hot in there. During the first week I took a box of eggs out of the cupboard to cook breakfast, and discovered that all the yolks had burst.

Mind you, most of the rest of the flat gets really hot during the day too—the downside of being on the top floor.  Finding that your toothpaste or shampoo is warm when you use it takes some getting used to.  On the plus side, I haven’t used the water heater in weeks, because the water coming out of the shower is never cold.  The tap outside, which I use for filling the watering can, even supplies hot water in this weather.

Yesterday my doorbell caught fire.  Electrical wiring here is never that dependable, but it’s quite likely that more than 3 weeks of it being 40+ every day had done weird things to the metal parts, since it was mounted outside on the wall out on the roof terrace.   Maybe something got bent inside and caused a spark, but basically it went up in flames when someone rang it repeatedly yesterday afternoon.  Fortunately I’d taken the day off work, and noticed the smell of burning coming through the a.c. so I went outside and caught it in flagrante delicto. 


It’s school holidays now, and around Defence Colony where I live it has suddenly become much quieter, especially in the mornings.  The metro is also not quite so packed.  I’m looking forward to getting away somewhere myself soon too—apart from the odd day here and there, I’ve not had any holiday since I started this job in January.

With the stifling heat here, I’m currently thinking of somewhere cool and lush in the Himalayas… perhaps Darjeeling, or somewhere in ‪Uttarakhand‬.  Or maybe finally going to Kathmandu.  Any suggestions?




The New Normal

deserted padmini


I’ve been living in Delhi for 3 months now, and everything seems to have become “normal” quite quickly, at least compared with when I first arrived in India over 2 years ago.  Some things have normalised remarkably fast; some of them less so.  

An example of the former would be the daily commute to and from work on the metro, which has changed  from:

being an empowering novelty—Independence!  Efficient, clean, reliable public transport at last! (Are you listening, Bangalore?)

to being a curiosity—Trying to read all the signs and notices in Hindi for the practice; similarly listening to all the canned announcements, from the only-in-India ones: “Passengers are requested not to sit on the floor of the train”, to the more sinister ones: “Any unattended or suspicious article such as briefcase, bag, toy, thermos or transistor could be a bomb”.

to being an annoyance—Being completely surrounded by men all picking their noses as if it were an olympic event; or having to literally fight fellow passengers to get on and off the train, especially at Central Secretariat station where the violet line terminates and so the entire train empties and everyone on the platform rushes in try to get a seat.

to fading into the background—In the past week or two I’ve noticed myself day-dreaming or thinking about work stuff, and not paying much attention to what’s happening in the train at all.  (Except for when I have to fight people.)

I’ve been extremely busy with my new job, especially over the past few weeks, so I’ve not really had the energy at weekends to see much of Delhi  yet beyond a bit of shopping, and a stroll in Lodhi Gardens once.

And the temperature has kept on rising, a degree here and there every 2-3 days.  Last Tuesday was the first day this year that it got to 40 degrees.  Most of the day I’m hidden away inside an air-conditioned office, but I occasionally have to walk 5 minutes to another building, and at 1pm I can say that it was pretty uncomfortable—a bit like standing in front of a furnace with the door open.

Meanwhile the last week has been quite eventful here in many ways.  Apart from reaching the 40-degree mark last Tuesday, the same day there was an Earthquake, which turned out to be on the Iran-Pakistan border, but widely-felt across Northern India.  I was in a meeting at the time, and although I didn’t feel it myself others in the room said they could.  In some parts of town people ran from their buildings into the street.

On Saturday night I saw my first city-centre elephant being ridden down a highway.  I was in a taxi heading South with a friend who had just mentioned that she’d seen both a camel and an elephant that same afternoon.  And a few seconds later, just as I was expressing my surprise, there was this other one.

Before I had a chance to marvel at this, we went past another curious and much more disturbing sight.  A couple of Outside Broadcast TV vans, with satellite uplinks on the roof, were joined by more and more until there were about 20 all parked continuously by the side of the road we were driving along.  And then, at a gate, scores of photographers and TV cameras, all set up in the darkness, waiting for someone or something.

This was the main gate of the  nearby AIIMS Hospital, and it suddenly dawned on me that the reason they were there is because a 5-year old girl, who had been kidnapped and raped the day before, had been taken there in a critical condition.

Just before I came out to Delhi—16 December—the now infamous gang-rape and murder of a student here attracted global attention, while in India it resulted in a huge outpouring of anger, as well as debate in the media about violence against women, and the incompetence and apathy of the police.

This latest tragedy is almost impossible to comprehend.  Apart from the act itself, when the parents discovered what had happened they tried to register a case with the police station, but the police allegedly tried to bribe them Rs 2000 (£24/US$36) to keep quiet.  When protesters turned up at the police station, one of them—a 17-year old schoolgirl—was slapped across the face by the (male) Assistant Commissioner of Police, and supposedly left bleeding.  This was even caught on camera.

All of this while memories and discussions of what everyone is calling “the 16th December” case, and while the trial of those apprehended for that is still going on, have understandably built a new wave of public outrage.  Three metro stations were closed today because of protests taking place around the city.

It’s almost impossible to find the words to talk about this.

Before I came to Delhi some female friends told me they wouldn’t want to move here because they wouldn’t feel safe.  Things have now surely got much worse, at least in terms of people’s perception through media coverage.  (Delhi has been called India’s “rape capital” for some time.)

This article in today’s edition of The Hindu newspaper pretty much sums it up, and especially the wider background of violence against women, including dowry deaths and “bride burning”.

So, while many of the daily quirks of living in Delhi have become routine, there’s also this other side which I’m really struggling to come to terms with right now.  If I were female I might be seriously thinking about going home.  Then again, female friends who do actually live here seem fairly stoical about it.

If it’s possible that anything remotely positive could emerge from any of this, it is that the issues of violence and sexism against women are moved to the top of the agenda, and finally some significant changes start to be made.  There is actually a general election coming up next year, although the silence from politicians about reforming the police is particularly noticeable right now.  Ultimately we would need to see a huge shift in the values of Indian society.  That would be quite something.








Here Comes the Summer

Rising Temperatures in Delhi


Right then, here comes the Summer.  The ultimate test.  Maybe.

When I arrived in Delhi in January 2013 it was surprisingly cold.  Even for seasoned Dilliwalas it was something to talk about… supposedly the coldest winter for 40 years.

As the Times of India commented back in January:

For nine straight days since December 31, the capital hasn’t seen temperatures rise above 16 degrees Celsius and the minimum has remained below 6 degrees. Taking these two temperature limits as cutoff, TOI sifted through data for the past 40 years. No other unbroken spell of biting chill—both minimum and maximum temperatures staying this low—had sustained for as long as this, it was found.

Folks in more Northern climes will laugh at winter temperatures “not rising above 16 degrees”, but it did feel very chilly at times, especially in the damp foggy mornings.  And when there are no carpets and no proper heating anywhere.

Since the end of February/beginning of March, the temperature has gradually been moving up a notch every day or two, and for the past few weeks it’s been in the very pleasant low 30s.  A few weeks ago, I started having to put the ceiling fans on in the evening, and then in the bedroom overnight.

With a light breeze and blue skies, this is the kind of weather I would consider perfect on holiday.  (As it is, I’ve seen very little of it due to spending most of my days in the office.)  Over the past week or two I’ve noticed that butterflies are appearing everywhere during the day, and crickets are chirping in the evenings.

But now we’re at the beginning of summer, and that ominous-looking weather forecast above reckons we’ll hit 37 this weekend.  Found the first cockroach in the flat today too.

Given that it was 45 degrees for a week or two during a heatwave last June, I’m a little bit apprehensive about how I will cope.  For the last few days I’ve been arriving at the metro station and starting to drip with sweat as soon as I board the train.

Then again, my flat is quite cool and I’ve just had the air conditioning serviced, even though I’ve not had to actually use it yet.

So… I’m ready.  I think.

Over to you, Feargal.

Noisy Holi

Kids 3-0 Security Guard

Today was Holi, the Hindu “festival of colours”.  Given that I’d already been targetted by local kids with water-bombs and supersoakers last night, I decided to stay home, relax and enjoy my day off.  Maybe do some studying.  

In the end it was way too noisy.  Starting from very early.  Which was unexpected, as I live in a really peaceful neighbourhood.

So this put me in a pretty weird mood for the rest of the day.  (Or maybe I was in a pretty weird mood to begin with, since I was writing all this down as it happened…)


7.05am Out of bed and enjoying the unusually quiet holiday morning. Just birds singing; no sabzi-walas or other wandering vendors, and no traffic.

7.55am Unbelievably loud soundsystem starts up a few doors down, playing crappy kiddy trance. Presumably in someone’s house.  (Same thing happened last night, same place, and then abruptly stopped at 11pm.)

8.20am Dhol drummers marching round the block

8.44am Neighbours’ sound system stops.  Just birds singing.

8.45am  More Dhol drums come past.  Street dogs barking frantically.

8.50am Another Dhol crew.

8.57am And another one.

9.00am Two more, one at front and one behind house.

9.06am Suddenly peaceful.   A few parakeets screeching.

9.17am Soupcon of a drumbeat returns at low level from neighbour’s soundsystem.

9.25am  Another large soundsystem starts up at the JCO’s club on the other side of the park. This one continues throughout the day, alternating between loads of annoying pop-trance that all has the same bassline and auto-tuned vocals, and bollywood/bhangra tunes.  Some of the tunes are repeated 5-6 or more times and become very irritating.

9.45am Out-of-tune Für Elise from the steam-powered doorbell thing in the apartment downstairs.  8 bars repeating. Over and over.  Presumably waiting for a servant to respond.

9.53am Für Elise finally stops.

2.42pm Music on soundsystem at JCO club actually stops.  Faint Bhangra coming from somewhere else, plus quite a lot of male voices shouting in the distance.

3.32pm Actually peaceful.  Just birds singing and the laughter from the little kids next door playing in the yard.

5.00-6.00pm Afternoon nap. With earplugs, just in case.

10.04pm  Still quiet.  Enjoying the peace is only tempered by the worry that the damn sound-system from 3 doors down will come back on again.



Dog Bites Man (Category III)

OPD Registration Card


A week ago I was bitten by a street dog, right outside my flat.  I was walking to the shops about 8pm, along a badly-lit road, and it jumped out from behind a parked car, snarling, and bit me on the ankle.

I was more surprised than anything else.  It’s a dog that I see every day—street dogs are everywhere in my neighbourhood—and I didn’t even know it was there until it had nipped me.  I checked out the bite as soon as I got near a street-light, and there was no blood, so I carried on to the shops, and then washed it thoroughly with soap and water when I got home 20 minutes later.  And didn’t think any more of it.

I just happened to mention this to some colleagues at work the following morning, and to my surprise everyone became very concerned, and insisted that I go along to a hospital for Rabies jabs immediately. I had organised my own Rabies immunisation before coming to India two years ago, so I hadn’t really thought about any kind of follow-up.  Plus, growing up in the UK, where there is pretty much zero Rabies (or at least in dogs), I hadn’t given it much thought.  But they quickly persuaded me otherwise.

So, rather than sitting in my Monday-morning meeting, instead I found myself in an auto heading to the nearby hospital, which fortunately was only 5 minutes away from work.

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Small Things #8

Around 5pm, on a busy main road in Naraina.

A small, wiry woman–a daily wage labourer–walks briskly along the road after work with her three children.  All of them are animated and chatting over the noise of the traffic.

It’s clear that she’s a daily wage labourer because as she walks she has a full-size pickaxe perfectly balanced on her head, hands-free, and with the handle pointing directly forwards.


Small Things #7

Delhi, February. About 7.30am, and I’m just heading out the door to go to work.   I hear the hoot of a train from the nearby track.

Only it sounds different: three rising tones rather than two. Or the more common long, single, plaintive note. I think to myself how it sounded like a trombone.

I carry on walking past the park and hear it again.  Odd.

As I turn the corner, in front of me is a man in a Sergeant Pepper-style wedding band uniform, white with red and silver trimmings, and no hat.   He’s walking alone down the middle of the road, holding a silver Tuba.  The residential streets are quite busy with mums taking kids to school, and men washing cars, and he’s getting some funny looks.

He plays the 3 rising notes again, root-third-fifth, and this time adds a bit of a cavalry charge on the end, using the same notes but descending.  People are wondering what he’s doing.  He seems to be walking to the corner of each street, aiming his Tuba down the road, and announcing something with it.

A woman comes out of her front door and starts telling him off.  He protests and tries to explain, but wanders off anyway.

As I carry on walking towards the metro station, I can hear his notes in the distance: root, third, fifth, plus a little bit of cavalry charge.