Feeling hot and cold about beating back the heat in Beijing

By Usha Sankar ( China Daily ) Updated: 2007-07-25 14:45:42

It's been three years in Beijing now, but one thing that I am yet to get used to is the winter. While all my friends can't help gushing excitedly at the first sleet of every season, I plunge into deep depression. What's so beautiful about a striking landscaped being clothed in sepulchral white and sunrays struggling to break through gloomy skies, and dark, dark mornings and even darker evenings, I wonder.

Now, it's summer; ah! That is a different thing altogether. Just look at Beijing now - at 5 am, life-affirming sunshine blazes nice and bright, putting a springy step in my stride as I draw back the curtains. Everywhere I look, there is life - workers are up early and laboring at the construction site near my villa compound, early morning joggers are running and cleaners are toiling on the streets. Doors and windows are thrown open, neighbors become visible and children are everywhere. The energy in the air is infectious.

But I suspect my partiality for Beijing summers is rooted in another, deeper memory.

Beijing's summers take me back to the idyllic days of my childhood in hot, dry New Delhi. The city had its own "dog days" in the month of May when temperatures routinely hit 40 C. To walk the streets of Delhi in May or June in midday was to walk through a ghost town. Not a soul could be found on the streets. The city's dispossessed would take over the roads to catch 40 winks under the leafy shade of a neem, banyan or mango tree. Those were times of roadside "ice-cold" water and sugarcane-juice vendors.

At home, we would spend the afternoons wetting the thick bamboo curtains of our colonial-era government bungalow to cool the rooms as they flapped in the gentle breeze. Cool water came not from refrigerators, but from short- or long-necked earthen pots.

Every morning, mom would prepare a big vessel of thinned, home-made yoghurt garnished with a dash of coriander leaves, lime and crushed cumin seeds - a sure thirst-buster. Throughout the day, we would dip into this or gorge on platefuls of delicious, succulent mangoes - the undisputed king of fruits.

As the temperatures soared and heat radiated off the concrete walls of the house, my sisters and I would grab a pillow each and lie down on the cool, polished stone floors, listening to old Hindi film songs or the cricket commentary on my parents' cackling old radio, lopping off sticks of tender cucumber, plucked fresh from our garden and stuffed with a paste of salt and spices.

But as the sun went down, Delhi came alive. People cooped in all day would spill out into the streets, taking walks along the broad avenues in front of India Gate and Parliament House or strolling through the many gardens that dot Lutyens' Delhi. In my railway colony house, charpoys - made of hemp and woven on to a wooden frame - would get dragged out onto washed-down open terraces for a chat in the cool air with our neighbors. We children would play cricket and badminton, water the gardens and chase the house lizards.

And then it would be time to head indoors, lie down under a creaking ceiling fan and fall into a deep sleep.

(China Daily 07/25/2007 page20)

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