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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Winter is coming

But this time around, I’m not among those celebrating its arrival

Winter has always been my favourite time of year. The moment the temperatures begin to dip in the early morning and the darkness sets in early, my heart starts to soar. Winter is coming, I tell myself excitedly. Though not in a George RR Martin way, thank God!

This year, however, the start of winter has begun to feel a little apocalyptic. I came back from a short break to find Delhi engulfed in a smog so polluted that just breathing that air, I was reliably informed, was equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. For an asthmatic non-smoker like myself, that sounded like the kiss of death (quite literally).

So, suffice it to say, my reaction to the arrival of winter this time around had been a little bit different. Instead of celebrating the season by taking long walks in Lodhi Gardens, I have retreated to the sanctuary of my bedroom with three air-purifiers going at the same time, anxiously checking the counters to see if the PM 2.5 count was going any lower.

The only time I ventured out was to attend the wedding of one of my close friend’s daughter. And after every single function, I staggered back wheezing to my room, puffing away at my Asthalin inhaler as if my life depended on it (spoiler alert: it really does).

The good bit about all this is that I caught up on my reading, devouring Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Ties by Domenico Starnone in double quick time (excellent books both, I could not recommend them more highly – but that’s the subject of an entirely different column). I also binge-watched the American TV series, This Is Us, weeping copiously all the way through (don’t let that put you off; it is a fabulous show). And I managed to get in a little exercise as well, working out on my cross-trainer to get my mandatory 30 active minutes every day.

So, compared to those who had to brave the streets and the dust and smoke of Delhi traffic, I didn’t do badly at all. And yet, through it all I was plagued by a vague sense of dissatisfaction, a nagging feeling of missing out on my favourite season of the year, as I sat barricaded in my room, breathing in the best air that money could buy.

My mind went back to winters past, to those halcyon days when Delhi was not a gas chamber, slowly but surely killing us all. I flashed back to my first years in the capital, when I lived in a barsati in Defence Colony, with tiny little rooms but a vast terrace that was transformed into party central the moment the cold set in. My friends and I would sit around a bonfire late into the night, drinking our poison of choice, eating whatever takeaway we had ordered in, talking, laughing, singing, and of course, in due course, dancing, the air crisp against our flushed faces. Good times.

Sunday afternoons were invariably spent in the homes of friends who were prosperous enough to have houses with gardens and backyards. The barbeque would be going, rustling up everything from kebabs to hot dogs, there would be pitchers of beer, sangria and margaritas at the ready (and mulled wine once the cold really set in), someone would be strumming on a guitar while the rest of us drifted along making desultory conversation, as we basked in the balmy sunlight. Soon the drinks would kick in and the lawn would be littered with people in varying degrees of wakefulness, until the soporific effect of the sun made most of us nod off. Siesta after fiesta, we used to call it.

Then, there were the weekend girly lunches my friends and I used to organize around this time of year at some open-air restaurant or the other. Though to be honest, these were less lunches and more gossip sessions, where a hundred reputations died a thousand deaths as we exchanged stories about the worlds of journalism, advertising and PR, which we all belonged to, our tongues suitably lubricated by lashings of Chardonnay. (Now that you mention it, I am beginning to see a pattern here…and yes, it involves alcohol!)

But my best memories are of spending lazy afternoons alone on my terrace, curled up on my wrought-iron sofa with a good book, with just a couple of oranges for company. No matter how carefully I peeled the oranges, a few drops of the juice always spilled on the book I was reading. And now, when I re-read one of them and see that tell-tale stain, it takes me back to that lovely sun-filled terrace where I spent so many happy hours breathing in that cold winter air.

It is these memories that keep me going now, as I huddle inside my air-purified room, fearing that venturing into the open will trigger yet another asthma attack. And with every puff of my inhaler I send up a prayer that one day soon, I will be able to relive these moments for real instead of just in my imagination.