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December 19, 2014

Freeze and bare it

Text by Madhu Jain

If April is the cruellest month of all, is December much better? Madhu Jain ruminates on a New Delhi winter and discovers that it comes up tops despite the creeping fog, smothering smog and the absence of central heating and log fires

I often pluck quotes out of TS Eliot’s verse to give some resonance to what I am writing. Or, a springboard for it. The following one from The Waste Land pops up the most often….

April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.

For us in Delhi, where spring just whispers past as we go from the brittle cold of a Northern winter to the heat of a sub-tropical summer, April may just be too hot for memory to bubble up and activate slumbering desire. Here, December might just be the cruellest month ­— actually tag on January and a bit of February too. Winter is cold much of the world over, and the days are short. In the Nordic countries you blink and day becomes night. However, central heating, all the uber-urban neon, the blazing lights and twinkling Christmas trees make winter evenings a bit merrier. And, a lot less cold, dark and depressing.

In Capital City we certainly look forward to the last month of the year for respite from the unbearable post-monsoon, moisture-heavy heat and the ruthless sun raining down on us once the clouds have moved on. But the darkness, creeping fog, smothering smog and the absence of central heating and log fires (there are, however, the lucky few who live in homes and apartments that seem to be materialising out of European and American interior magazines on to a bleaker landscape) can get you down.

A better you
What saves us is the cheer that the onset of the season brings, and with it the many reasons to celebrate and have a good time. It was and still is to some extent family time, even as the bonds between nuclear families and the larger joint families become more elastic — stretched at times beyond the boundaries of intimacy. December is the month when our NRI brethren fly down south, like birds flocking to warmer climes. The series of parties in honour of them — one more lavish than the next — might end up exhausting them all. But the show of family ties must go on. You must celebrate the homecomings of friends and family even though anecdotes about their quality of life back home might get tiresome, even envy-making.

Nor has the afterglow of Diwali quite been extinguished yet, despite the diminishing bank accounts from all the shopping, partying and card-playing. Delhiwallas play and gamble hard: for many the season begins with Dussehra and goes on well past the dawn of the New Year. The lessons learned from Yudhisthira’s unlucky throws of the dice and all the irreversible consequences of his addiction are forgotten. With the approaching turn of the last page of the calendar of the year, there is still the possibility of hope for a better year and a better you: hope that the resolutions made in all earnestness will not be discarded.

The wedding season is also on, at full throttle in December. The bling from the clothes and the jewellery dispels the fog and darkness, like myriad little lighthouses lighting up dark waters. With women, especially the bride, you can’t tell where the ornaments end and the clothes begin: necklaces sit on chests like the metal shields that gladiators wear in the epic movies. Fake or semi-fake (and at times real) kundan necklaces and chandelier-like earrings enhanced by huge rubies and emeralds seem worthy of an emperor’s ransom.

Making an impression
Often, even during the coldest of Delhi winters, backs are only dressed with strings and jewellery. Shawls, one of the PYTs (Pretty Young Things) confessed, would dim the flash and ‘ruin the look’. So, grin, freeze and bare it…A few of the more savvy of the young women massage oil on their arms and backs to act as a buffer between the cold winds of winter and their goosepimply skin.

As for the men, they also want to make an impression and not fade into the night.

Why let the girls have all the fun could well be their new motto. Upping the plumage, the grooms dazzle in heavily embroidered sherwanis and elaborate turbans, probably inspired by Bollywood, even Raja Ravi Varma-inspired Bollywood. They and their entourage of friends and kin are increasingly adding to the glitter and voltage. “Why can’t we also wear gems, look at the maharajas. We also want to look good and shine,” an aesthete who would be king once told me rather disdainfully. This gentleman of a certain age often airs his emeralds as big as the Ritz.

The merry-go-round of weddings, parties, Christmas celebrations, New Year’s Eve revelry just keeps getting louder each year. The driving engine is the need to have fun. Or even more necessary, to show that you are having fun. Never mind if there isn’t much to celebrate. Now, coming to that three letter word which is probably more elusive than the other word with the same number of letters, with a vowel sandwiched between two consonants…. You get it, I don’t need to spell it out. But, seriously having fun is not easy. The threshold of fun is getting higher while that of boredom is getting lower. The harder you try the more evanescent and fleeting it becomes.

If bringing in the Happy New Year is no longer fun, just fake it. The show must go on.

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