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.