POSTCARD#71: Delhi: It came in the late afternoon, rush hour traffic was at a standstill, tree branches tumbling in the road and all kinds of things blowing around. Later somebody said it was like a whirlwind, sudden chaos for twenty minutes… the world was falling apart. Then suddenly it was over, only the devastation left behind. Earlier in the day it was obvious something was happening but I didn’t know what exactly. There’d been this strange brown coloured sky all through the morning, and I’d considered it but wasn’t paying much attention because I’d arrived in Delhi only the day before. Everything was weird, the whole thing; first day back after an absence of three months and all I could seem to focus on at the time was this incredible heat. Googled the weather later: hot and dry winds, max 46oC today; higher than body temperature, hotter outside than it is inside…
Step out of the air-con room, into the lobby and the heat is like… a thing, a presence, a semi-liquid jello-like substance that fits exactly into every corner of the room. The ceiling fan just stirs it up, slooshes it around, slaps it off the walls. I make my way through the lobby heat to the main room where another air-con is running and into the cool again. Check the phone, and there’s a text message from Jiab saying they expect stormy weather today. That’s when I noticed the sky was this curious brown colour, an apocalyptic feeling. Never seen it like this. Go to the glass doors, take a closer look at it, open the door and step outside. The heat takes my breath away. The sky is filled with brown smoke – later I discovered it was dust, fine sand from all the dry areas surrounding Delhi. I touch the metal parts of the door and ouch! It burns my hand. Disorientated, a few seconds of panic… the heat will dry up all the fluids in my body. Eyes like slits, avoid any sudden intake of breath for fear of it drying up all the moisture in the throat. The planet Mars must be something like this. Back inside, close the door, the cool of the room again.
A couple of hours after that, the storm started. Really immense gusts of wind, tree tops swirling around like I’ve never seen them do before. Windows rattle in their frames, bang, crash. Breaking glass… the wind must have blown in a window! How can that be, what’s happening? Outside there are people running for shelter, and a large tree-branch just separates from the rest of the tree, long strip of bark left behind, tumbles over and crump lands on the roof of a parked car. Crashing noises upstairs and I run up there to see. Open the door to the roof terrace, and peep out through the gap, holding the door as it gusts against my weight. Parts of the thatched roof of our sun shelter are gone…
Sky is full of twigs, leaves and flying debris… black shapes against a brown light, and the strangest thing I’ve ever seen: there are birds everywhere – fluttering in the air, coping with it, a frantic flap of wings, bodies flung upwards suddenly – off to the side in unnatural ways. It’s like the end of the world; the air has become the sea, boats at the mercy of the waves. Pull the door shut, and go back downstairs, lie low until it settles.
“When the sensation that I am in control of my life and must make it happen ends, then life is simply lived and relaxation takes place. There is a sense of ease with whatever is the case and an end to grasping for what might be.” [Richard Sylvester]
Sounds pretty, bloody awful and scary. 46C is some serious heat. I hope it is not humid as well. A blogger friend in Nagpur was reporting temps like that. But your attitude, as portrayed in the quote, is admirable, especially given the discomfort. I would take 10F any day. A similar feeling to this post when Hurricane Sandy hit NYC. Trees were horizontal and massive flooding in the downtown waterfront subways. Destruction everywhere. We have done this to the earth. What hell have we wrought upon us? Stay safe, try to stay relatively cool and well hydrated. But you know all this. Take care!
Do you mean 100F? I can change that if necessary. Not humid here and that makes it tolerable maybe, more like getting burnt in a fire. Take precautions. The experience of the sudden storm as you know, changes the way you view the world. An immediacy, it happens so quickly… a minute or two of these huge gusts and the whole thing is devastated. Like the big bad wolf who huffed and puffed and he blew the house down.
I meant to say, would take -12C any day over 46. That does not sound right and I looked up the conversion but the conversion confounds me. Glad you are okay and that it is dry heat although my husband, who lived in Cairo and the Middle East, has said sand storms in high heat are horrendous. I hear that Nagpur is 46C AND humid. Natural disasters are disorienting. Here for a short time, destruction, then gone. It IS surreal. Take care!
Thanks yes, I see what you mean now. If you can wrap up well in the cold, it’s okay. That’s how it was for me in Scotland long ago and far away. Managing the extremes of heat is a different story. Now in Asia for more than 30 years, a migratory bird that never went home. Learning how to cope with these environmental circumstances and every year the support mechanism gets better.
Glad to hear support mechanisms keep getting better– internal or external or both. So you are a Scotts ex-patriot. Husband lived in Edinburgh while in university. Have heard stories of the cold. Especially in the Orkneys. Also have had heard a Sri Lankan say summers in NYC worse than heat of Sri Lanka. Don’t know if that’s true. Maybe concrete & asphalt are factors, certainly in NYC. Anyhow, take care.
Thanks, yes we’re getting used to it here more and more. I need to update my About page to include the fact that I’m from the North of Scotland, my father’s father came from Orkney. My mother came from Aberdeenshire. I studied in Glasgow but would go over to Edinburgh often – I remember it being much colder there. I was born in the Moray Firth where the weather is slightly less cold but it’s all relative… I remember opening the door to go out in the morning and the wind was so strong it would blow me back in again. The heat is another thing. I experienced one summer in NYC – pretty much like Bangkok, the concrete & asphalt are factors, AC units send out heat, car exhausts. In a way India is better for me than Bangkok because it’s not humid. Anyway there’s only a month of the heat left here in Delhi then we have rain and it starts to get cool.
Interesting, all! Take good care!
The photo of the groups of people moving through the blowing sands is really telling. Probably on instinct, the most natural thing in the world, people come together in close groups to move through the wind. In the presence of danger, we reach for one another.
I find the moments after such a natural power whips through are almost surreal. A calm that stands in such stark contrast to the thundering energy that was present just moments before. Where does it come from and where does it go? Are cells are still vibrating afterwards, asking us… is it gonna’ circle around and come back?
Hope all is well…
Yes, it’s an experience shared, and all is well now thanks. Words like ‘disorienting’ come to mind… pieces of our old thatched roof tangled in the electric cables, high up there and in the branches of a nearby tree. But all the repairs have been done, the roof replaced and new glass for one broken window. Surreal is the word. I’m thinking about the term: ‘natural disaster’, it’s something that cancels itself out… everybody staggering around in a state of astonishment.
Strange to come to Richard Sylvester’s words when just before the bath I just finished having I wrote this:
A letter came to me yesterday,
addressed in an unfamiliar hand.
“To Whom It May Concern.”
“All this has happened already.
You are going through the motions,
unawares, full of attachments
Please do not trouble yourself
with further pointless turbulence.
With love and best wishes
Letting-go of control, relinquishing the ‘self’ that experiences these attachments, repulsions, pointless turbulence; life is simply lived and relaxation takes place.
As Mister Punch would say, “That’s the way to do it.” 🙂
Audience participation: “Oh no, it isn’t!”
But one day …
I love storms but they can be so destructive. What a great shot you captured of the people huddled amidst the flying sands!
Thanks but it’s not my photo in fact… I got it from our local newspaper: The Hindu. The caption tells us they’re tourists at an historic site in Delhi huddling together in the storm. Everything about it is the same though, the same colour of sky and atmosphere. It really was a dynamic experience, as you’re suggesting here. First time for me to be in a dust storm…
Well written I feel like I experienced nature’s fury with you.
It’s like the natural impulse to write about it is generated by the storm…
The Sylvester quote is so succinct. I do not know his work but am adding him to my reading. His website is quite interesting.
Lovely writing in this post, and like the others, I, too, felt I was in the storm with you.
I thought about the quote afterwards and wondered if it would have been as meaningful to me in ordinary circumstances. It’s in the context of ‘the storm’, the urgency – events that arise suddenly and are larger than life, these are the times when I relinquish control, maybe involuntarily, and just for a moment… the easing that follows is the indicator. Thanks for your visit.
Wow. What a story, nicely written.
Sand storms are beautiful, especially that red color, but very strange. I have been in sand storms in different countries and it can feel suffocating. Once in Sahara our car broke down because of a sand storm. I started writing a good bye letter…
46C !! –in some parts of Rajasthan it was as hot in April and I think it is my limit.
Thanks Miia, I remember being in the car in a sand storm a couple of years ago and sand particles came in through the AC vents, it can be scary… the end of the world. We’re past the season for it now, thank goodness.
Oh so you know what it can feel like… This was in deep south of Algerian Sahara… The sand enters everything, it is everywhere. Scary.
Do you live in India?
Yes I’ve been in Delhi for the last three years but experienced only two sand storms. It happens because the surrounding areas can become very dry in the hot season, like a desert. They’re short and sudden, I imagine not as bad as the Algerian Sahara, for example, or other pure desert areas
What is the season for sand storms? They come from Rajasthan?
How do you like living in Delhi?
I notice they call them dust storms here, maybe that means fine sand – definitely gritty. Yes they come from Rajasthan, according to a study it’s the Great Thar Desert on the border of Pakistan. The dust storms come during the peak of the hot season, must be a climatic thing. You really have a sense of the power of nature. Living in Delhi at that time is pretty harsh, you make a dash from one AC environment to the next. Other seasons are quite pleasant. If you’re in Northern Europe, it’s a good place to come for the winter time. The city itself, traffic, road behaviour etc., is a bit tough. Surprisingly though, there are a lot of green areas in New Delhi. There are places to shop for everything you need to live in a Western style. The bread is good, milk products, cheese, wonderful fruit – free of GMO. Expensive to rent a place, but it’s ok…
Thanks for the study, looks very interesting.
I don’t know if you were following me already in April when I was in India? It was my 4th one-month trip to India. I took my parents with me during the first 10 days and I revisited Rajasthan with them. In some parts it was already limit too hot, especially for my parents who live in Finland! I had told them that April will be hot, but this was the only time we were all free, and it was ok.. we took necessary measures. Then my husband arrived, my parents left and we continued to Varanasi and again to Kerala, for Ayurveda treatments. In the end we spent time in Bombay with friends.
I am particularly fond of the different cities of Delhi, Mehrauli etc. Having worked also in Uzbekistan, it was fascinating to see this part of the silk road, and similarities in architecture. Extremely interesting.
I have made my career in the developing world / emerging markets, but since a few years I am back in Paris. But I would love to come and work in India one day. I know visiting and living is never the same thing, but India is now my number one object of fascination. I absolutely love different Indian cuisines, history, religious aspects, architecture etc. Well, I have never been there neither during the peak of the monsoon season or the pollution season (Dec-Jan I hear), but still…. What a continent!!! I find ppl very kind and have never witnesses not a single negativity toward me.
What time of the year do you find the most difficult in Delhi? Are you planning to stay long?
Enjoy India for me too 🙂 !!
There is this kind of familiarity that India seems to have for certain people, as if they were here in a former life? Or maybe it’s just a real sense of ancient history. I didn’t know about your blog in April, and yes it would have been getting on towards the hot season in April – you must all be devoted to the travel adventure! North to South, a huge distance…
If you’re interested in living here, there are various ways. One is to enrol in some kind of Indian culture course of study that’s open to foreigners. Easy to get a long-term visa that way. Or if you’re really serious, you could apply for a job with an NGO – all kinds of ongoing social development programs. You’d have to search the internet for these.
The most difficult time in Delhi is the hot season May/June/July but it’s a dry heat and that’s better than sweating in humidity. Start looking, there are possibilities, I think, I hope you find something. We will be here for another year possibly, then who knows, maybe South East Asia again…
Yes maybe you are right, some sort of familiarity… I remember very clearly that seeing old Silk Road architecture around Delhi somehow put pieces together. It was very powerful.
Also, I am very drawn to the Akbar period, or Mogul period in general. Strange. There is something there for me.
And yes, we did big distances, but even without my parents I think we would have done Varanasi (never been there before) and Kerala (I wanted to return for some treatments). We had a stop over in Calcutta, which was a very interesting and different city. India is so diverse!!!
Talking about ancient history, Varanasi! If you have time and interest, go to “Varanasi” tag in my blog and you will find some stories. That place has a soul!!!!! It was quite disturbing in the beginning but I grew to love it. We also did Sarnath.
I have commitments in Paris this year, but I will sooner or later look into India. I have managed many projects abroad, and I also write (for OECD), so maybe something could come up. I have worked in public private partnerships but not within NGOs.
Lucky you living there! I think life is somehow so much more meaningful when living outside the “first world”…. Professionally, one has a lot more responsibilities, too. Missing my expat years!
Powerful for me too, the idea of the Silk Road communities coming and going, constantly on the move, the places they stopped on the way and all the news and passing on of information from the Far East to the Mediterranean. We visited Varanasi and went on the river, part of our tour around the Buddhist holy sites. I’ll check out the Varanasi tag in your blog. Have not visited Calcutta but there’s the softer Bangladesh character about it I believe and might recognise that feeling from the two years we were in Dhaka. I know what you mean about living outside the “first world”, I’ve been away for more than 30 years and can’t seem to relate to my native place now in the way I used to. It’s now just another stop on the way. Good to hear about your journeys…
30 years away..I can imagine it would be difficult to return to the UK! There is a Greek saying that a river cannot change its course. It makes sense.
Never say never, but I don’t think I would return to Finland. I am a stranger there too! In Paris, too, but it is more home in a way than Finland.
But, since I spent about 10 yrs “everywhere”, I can feel at home also in so many places… Strange maybe.
Please have some curry for me tonight 🙂
🙂 The Old Silk Road is in the heart…