Melbourne is getting colder by the day. The minimum for today is six degrees celcius with a max of 15. Mia is having her morning snooze – should be up any minute – and I am still sitting in my favourite flannel pyjamas and a huge, brown sweater that makes me look like a mini woolly mammoth. But it’s super comfortable. As I type this, I am looking out at the little space we call our backyard: There are browning willow leaves everywhere. The trees are nearly bare-limbed, quickly shedding the remnant of their leaves, preparing to go easy for the winter. If I look out of my kitchen window, it’s the same story. The kitchen window overlooks another neighbour’s backyard with its many fruit trees. There is not a single leaf to be seen on any of the trees and they look very cold.

When I walk down the village road here – don’t be fooled by this locality being called ‘village’, it’s more yuppy than yuppy thought it could be – winter is clearly here. The lack of colour announces it. Everywhere you look, everything is rugged up in shades of black and grey. There’s an occasional dash of red but for most folks here, winter colour usually means a dark green or a navy blue.

The girls are all in boots and the boys have their beanies out. Most people are wearing pants or tights or leggings to keep their legs warm. It’s only the very young girls who dare to still wear really short shorts with only translucent stockings keeping the cold off their legs. But they don’t look cold. As the wind cuts through, people seem to hurry through their chores, whatever it was that got them out of their homes, their electric heaters. The dogs aren’t happy as their masters hurry them through their morning walks, even though the dogs are also dressed up in various doggy-warmers, also in shades of grey and black. There’s an occasional terrier in a red coat looking a bit embarrassed for drawing attention to himself.

Melbourne winter could not be more different from the Delhi winter.

Deserted streets with nary a pedestrian, the street lamps valiantly but weakly trying to cut through the winter fog, stray dogs with their heads tucked under their paws sleeping under parked cars, no coats for them. Some of the more resourceful ones though have managed a discarded newspaper to lie on. The tail-lights on the early morning traffic disappearing into the horizon, rather over the flyover given horizons are a rarity in Delhi; their exhaust fumes mingling with the fog.

There would be the milkman on this ratty scooter; his head and face wrapped in a warm scarf, the milk cans rattling on either side of his steed, vapour smoking out of his mouth each time he breathed. There would be more such wrapped men. The sweepers who clean the street, the local ‘colony’ watchman, the autorickshaw drivers: All of them with only their eyes visible, some waiting for a savari, another for the next guy on the shift. Most would be huddled around some sort of a makeshift fire. Usually whatever debris has been swept off the street; adding to Delhi’s winter smog.

There would be the brave aunties out for their morning walk, needed to justify the ghee-laden parantha they’ve had for breakfast. Salwar-kameez with sneakers, a baseball cap or a hand-knitted bonnet-scarf and a colourful shawl tightly pulled around them. There would be the school kids with their mothers outside colony gates, waiting for the school bus. The mums – some in jeans, some in salwars, would all look impatient; they want the bus to hurry-up so they can go back and finish the household chores. Or get started with them. All the kids would look smart in their school blazers but also look miserable because they’d rather stay home.

No such wishful thinking for the street kids. The older ones are already starting to line up at their designated red lights. The sight of a 10-year-old in dirty shorts and a threadbare shirt can momentarily melt hearts and open up wallets. The younger kids are huddled together in a tangle of limbs and torsos, like puppies. Each one will have a runny nose.

There are no beggar kids in Melbourne. I’ve read about homeless families and seen many homeless adults, but I’ve never seen a “street kid”. Of all the things that I miss about Delhi, I don’t miss that sight.

There used to be this little girl, a beggar girl, called Tanjali… I was very fond of her. I always carried toffees for her in my bag. She never asked me for money but she always asked for more toffees so she could give them to her other little friends. She was beautiful and smart and cheeky. I wish I could have done something for her. I wonder where she is now or what she’s doing. I perhaps could have done something for her, but I left.

Sometimes, when I look at the kids playing in the many, many parks here, or take Mia for swimming lessons or throw the baby food down the kitchen drain – and what variety of baby food! – she’s too fussy to eat; I think about Tanjali. Of how for a little while I’d thought some of us likeminded people could make a difference. It had started out with handing out painted tee shirts so that the street kids could have something more to wear. The tee shirts carried the slogan, The Indian Citizen…

And then I’d met Partner and I chose personal happiness. And I left.

Damn. Now I am all depressed; and to think I started writing about winter because I wanted to write about ginger-chai. I am drinking it and loving it. Nothing like the chai you get at the Delhi street stalls, but nonetheless it's chai. That’s got to be my favouritest winter memory, I can even smell it. No matter how rich, poor, bus driver, sweeper or beggar kid: The ubiquitous cup of sweet, steaming ginger chai was always there on a winter morning, momentarily making you forget everything else.

Like how perhaps I ran away from it all. And how I might be a coward.

PS: Can't upload pics, Blogger maintenance apparently.


Anonymous said...

No....you didn't run away from it. You chose as you said, happiness.

A different kind of love - each Delhi and Melbourne will have a place in your heart, but don't ever think you walked away from it. As they say, you can always go home (wherever home may be to you :))

And now you have me craving adhrak chai and paneer pakora lol. Man I miss Melbourne...

JB said...

@ Siggy: Dude, did you have to mention pakoras?! Now I will have to make some, though need to check if I have any besan. When are you back in Mel though?

Gayatri said...

Glad I found you here JB. I used to love Eve Emancipation, and then one fine day... you left:)

night into day said...

all sounds so far away..we are of course in the peak of summer and the mention of wooly coats and leggings makes me feel hotter...
speaking of food though, you have me salivating for some pakoras...:(
there is no besan in dear old Hanoi....

Anonymous said...

Hahaha make some for me...back in Melb in mid August. Finish up in HK at end of July but Evs is flying up and we're travelling around Vietnam for 2 weeks before heading back. :)

Sree said...

3.The Indian citizen lol. I'm sure the little girl must have found a way to dry her runny nose.

2.And then you can go back and give few toffees and more to another kid. Lucky who?

1.I cant wait to read your first book.Vampires or not.

0.How do people write!!!really well.

JB said...

@ Gayatri: Good to see you back and hope to see you around. :)

@ Night: I can imagine. Are you sure, maybe they call it something else? But then again, just go have some those awesome grilled stuff from the street food stalls. When we were in Hanoi in 2009, we totally pigged out on the food there. I am SO jealous.

@ Siggy: Oh you're going to love it. And don't hold back on the shopping. Definitely going to meet you once you're back, three years is a long time to not have met!

@ Sree: *smiles* Remember the shitizen? sigh. Thanks for being around for so long Sree. It matters. You are my only "pen" friend you know. Vampires in The Book? Haha, just maybe. hugs.

Anonymous said...

i miss winters and i miss summers. bangalore has the same awesome weather the year around. sigh. i guess one can never be happy with the weather. but i want to wear boots and tights and a short-short skirt with a lovely jacket. or maybe a sundress with lovely yellow sunflowers on it. but here all you can wear is jeans, jeans and more jeans. oh well.
i'm not saying anything about Tanjali because there is nothing to say. constant exposure to poverty has made us hard-hearted.

Bikramjit said...

Hmm i can understand ..
I guess some of us do ahve memories of back home and how things were and now that we are aborad in a better environment we often think if we could do better .. But the thing is when you were gave toffees to the little girl, that was good too..

situations change ...

I often think so the same ..

we in uk are sort of lost weather wise its neither summer nor winter.. silly weather i wish it gets warmer ..

take care


Anonymous said...

I know! I get the exact same feeling sometimes in singapore! that we're in a foreign, luxurious and somehow unreal country- but there's so much to be done back home in the real world! but jb, one day, one day- its never too late!

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