Winter has climbed over the clouds and appeared - plonk - in the middle of Bombay. Sudden, unheralded and completely unexpected.
I should have noticed this a few days ago, when I didn't have to throw the sheets off me in a rage in the heat-sweltering dawn, but I didn't. Because in Bombay, there are no signs, really. No sunlight changing to the glow of sunshine, no yellow-ness of late afternoon warmth against walls and streets. No gradual shift, complete with falling leaves, the air growing thicker and thicker, as though it's concealing a secret until, one day, just as you feel you can't endure it any longer, it bursts open with dew and earthworm mounds on the school field and an explosion of white-and-orange shiuli flowers on the hard winter ground.
No, no signs at all. No brooding sense in the pit of my stomach, that something's-going-to-happen-I-don't-know-what-but-I'm-excited feeling. Suddenly, at dawn yesterday, it became too cold to sleep with the fan on. Get up, fan off, loo, drink water, look at time (5:00 a.m.), stagger back to bed, check alarm (set for 5:30) and switch it off, get under covers, snuggle up to A, drift back to sleep.
6:30 a.m. Daylight. Awaken slowly, dozily, rub eyes, squint, notice that the light is different, the air is different. There's a nip - Bombay's poor-cousin version of a nip, but a nip none-the-less - in the air. Outlines seem more distinct, as though the cold air has crystallised the edges of things, exploded vague stories and myths, made things cleaner, clearer. Stretch lazily, lie back in bed, staring through the window at the sky (white winter sky, gleaming). At the trees outside, ringing to the chuck-chuck-chirrik sounds of birds rushing about, busy with humming processions of insects (with "Bugs At Work" signs) drilling flowers and draining honey. At the leaves, a dew-washed fresh green, shining in the crisp new air.
Morning coffee (I'm not supposed to have it, but what the heck, some days are just ear-marked for a good steaming mug of caffeine), standing at the window sipping, looking at green-leaf-sunshine, I get goosebumps from the crisp air and the sense of potential about the day. There's something about winter that just gets me. It gets under my skin, whirls things around a bit, makes me giggle.
Long years ago, winter holidays, Ma and I (in one of her best "holiday projects" ever) would go walkabout in Calcutta. Math-and-coffee-mornings (Hall and Knight, Hall and Stevens), sandwich-and-oranges lunch, and then off to explore the city. Winter afternoon in a boat on the river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Cousins and aunts, oranges and chocolate, I-saw-a-Dolphin triggering rival "so-did-I"s, lulled by the blip-blip of the oar and our mothers' laughter. By bus to Nimtola Ghat, the Circular Rail to Princep Ghat, and back walking, after coffee and chicken pakoras in the Garden Cafe by the river. A morning at the zoo, an expedition with my cousin M, armed with flask and water and sandwiches, and peanuts for the elephants (Roshanara and something-something - can't believe I've forgotten the name - call my cousin in a frenzy to check if she remembers), an afternoon at all our shrines, gaping at the otter, gazing wistfully at the bears ("But why can't we keep one?") before finally taking the long way home, dusk and sunset, and gentle fog settling and back home, exhilarated, to coffee and hot baths and one more adventure under our belts.
Winter mornings at home are still magical. Ma and Baba sitting outside, under the beach-umbrella we bought years ago, that is defying all known laws of the universe by still remaining in one piece. Coffee, newspapers, The Telegraph quick crossword (by arrangement with The Guardian), neighbours and friends dropping by for coffee and staying for esoteric discussions -quantum mechanics and road trips, my dogs, resplendent - and preening somewhat - in their winter coats, running amok - chasing mice and birds and each other with equal enthusiasm before flopping down hufffffff, nose-under-chair - cocking their ears at morning activity - chirrik chirrik birds, pen scratching over paper, the car being washed, and someone collecting the masses of shiuli scattered on the ground, to heap onto a black stone plate, to place on a white marble table.
Coffee under my belt, the morning beckons. Gym, provisions-shopping, and the beach - across the street - in winter, with stony sea and white heads of foam. Coffee plans with P. Crisp air creeping through my windows, filling my soul. Sunshine on green leaves and long dangling stalks of wispy, cotton-y flowers, and Simon and Garfunkel singing I Am a Rock in the background. I clean my fans, dust the ceiling clean of cobwebs and settle into the beanbag with more coffee, as A sleeps on. Still looking out the window while the sunshine dapples the room. Bombay winters may not be a patch on Calcutta ones, but what the heck, I'll take these too.