Scorching. Sweltering. Sizzling. Stifling.
That's exactly what the weather report here reads like for this week. Yesterday was my first experience of the heat of the Australian summer. Despite it being only 41 degrees -- I am from India, seen much worse, ahem -- the sun seems to sear through the skin. I could feel my scalp burning and my skin turning from the hue of milk chocolate to dark cooking chocolate in a mere five minutes. In Delhi, the heat radiates off everything... in Melbourne it does not radiate because everything starts melting way before that.
In 2008, I had pretty much managed to skip the Delhi summer. April-May 2008 had seen Partner and me travelling to the beautiful Leh-Ladakh (-->) and then to Kuala Lumpur for Partner's (<--) cousin's a wedding with a short, five-day stint in Melbourne. While KL had been pleasant, Melbourne had its winter then. Subsequently, once we moved here in July 2008, I had altogether managed to skip the Delhi summer. The last year also saw Melbourne having a freak summer where instead of it warming up in December, most of that month and January fluctuated between pleasant and wearing sweaters ('jumpers' here). Now apparently the state of Victoria is suffering a heat wave, the likes of which haven't been since 1908. At least 20 localities lost power supply, newspapers suggested that people without airconditioners move to shopping malls (er, with sleeping bags?!) and people walking on the roads seemed to be steaming, me included.
Funny that power cuts, heat waves, no water and no airconditioner was pretty much the way of life for me for a long while.
In June 2002, after three months of sleeping under the office table at the India Today Group Online office -- didn't have a house and was young and fool-hardy enough to think I could live like a nomad -- I had rented a one room hole in Lajpat Nagar. This hole was bang in the centre of Gupta Market, best known for salwar-kameez materials and mannequins. At night when I'd come back from work, the streets would be deserted. The only inhabitants were stray dogs hiding under cars and behind dustbins and hundreds and hundreds of naked mannequins -- stripped off their glittering finery for the night -- lining up the street that housed my hole. It was one of the most bizarre experiences. I would return from covering a fashion show or some party to be greeted by naked plastic men and women, staring dead ahead, oblivious of me or the dogs.
The hole was on the first floor. To get up to it you had to cross huge mounds of plastic wrapping, discarded cloth strips from the many local tailoring shops, dog poo hidden like land mines amongst the piles and paan (betel leaves) stains on every bit of vacant wall that wasn't already covered with posters of paan-chewing local politicians. Sometimes the paan was spat out on the politicians' faces, it really didn't make a difference though. Their sinister smiles and hollow promises seemed to overpower even the stains...
Adjacent to my hole were seven other holes, three on each side. Each of those holes had families of at least six living inside. All holes were basically one room. I didn't have anything other than a rucksack with my clothes, a Rs 300 moulding mattress and Papa's old Philips tape recorder. At any given time, you could hear at least three different channels from the neighbouring holes. It usually meant listening to a medley of Sa Re Ga Ma ( the antakshari show, Anu Kapoor used to anchor it back then), Hindi news channel with cheap ads Aaj Tak (remember PP Jewellers?) and some obscure soap opera at the same time. The only other sounds were those of husbands shouting for food, babies crying and old people coughing.
And I would lie there in the sweltering heat with only a ceiling fan. Rather a tired ceiling fan that was bored of circulating the stifling, non-existent breeze and refused to move at anything faster than the speed of 1. I earned a mere Rs 8000 then (without taxes) and was paying Rs 3,500 for rent. Before going to bed, I'd pour two mugs of water on me -- a borrowed bucket of water, there was none in the taps, landlord said it wasn't part of the deal -- and then lie under the tired fan. I could only sleep till my sweat-mingled-with-water dried off.
I didn't cook back then... had only saucepan and a plate and no money for anything else. Also the fact that the 'terrace' had bats hanging from the awning and the kitchen was on the terrace wasn't much encouragement. There was a charpai/ charpoy (literally 'four legs', a basic cot with criss-crossing hemp ropes) that I used as a walk-in almirah. Hah, it rested on its sides and my clothes hung on it... I was buying drinking water and the kitchen was full of empty bottles. When Ma came visiting and opened the kitchen door, 250 empty bottles of water had tumbled out. Ma had just sat down and started crying. I had still refused monetary help. The stupid resilience and even stupider pride of being 21-years-old...
Then and now. Friends had laughed at me when I had marvelled at the amazing shower heads in the Kuala Lumpur hotel room. But kya kare, I was amazed. (smiles) Either I am getting soft now or I'm getting old because I have borne much worse, without any or much lesser complaint.
Now I wonder if the basics of life -- considered a right here, how different from Delhi -- available at the push of a button provide enough impetus to start all over again. I have uprooted myself, but will I be able to re-establish myself?