Delhi Fog: The Real Reason Mumbai “Winter” Will Never Match Up to Dilli Ki Sardi


Delhi Fog: The Real Reason Mumbai “Winter” Will Never Match Up to Dilli Ki Sardi

Illustration: Akshita Monga

On what passes for a winter morning in Mumbai, I rise from bed and exhale forcefully, in the hope that I’ll see a cloud of vapour form in the slightly chilly January air. But all that comes out is a sigh of disappointment. Yes, I’m that annoying Dilliwala you see in the memes popping out of nowhere and asking, “Yeh koi thand hai?” But there’s more to our disdain of Mumbai’s winters than meets the eye. Mumbaikars might be sick and tired of us out-of-townies acting all macho when the mercury drops, but that’s just a front to cover how we’re pining for the pristine, idyllic season we left behind at home – yes yes, pristinely preserved in our imaginations only.

Delhi Winter

Chill Grips North India, Mercury Continues To Dip
Image credit: Getty Images

Today, conversation about Delhi winter is usually dominated by discussions about the heavy smog and plummeting air quality. And even though today you’d rather kids in Delhi stay indoors with face masks on, I still remember the winter as a time when fog (not smog) meant missed catches during evening games of cricket, because players couldn’t see the ball – or were furiously rubbing their hands together to warm them up.

Dilli ki sardi began even before you could feel the chill on your body. The school sent out a circular titled “Winter School Timings” and you knew that the blissful days of waking up late were here. But you soon found out this idea is a sham.

Every morning brought with it a realisation – the warm and cozy world you’d created inside your blanket was in sharp contrast to the reality outside. You wanted to stay inside this small igloo of yours forever, but come 7.30 am, and a cruel hand would rip away your comforting layers of kambal and razai. It was the hand of your mother, whose inhuman crime was in sharp contrast with her smile wishing you good morning.

After taking a piping hot bath that left steam rising off your skin, deciding how many layers of clothing to wear was of utmost importance. If you wear a warmer, you can do with a half sleeves sweater. But if you don’t wear one, you’ll require full sleeves. Mother was adept in taking these decisions quickly. She had a simple solution: “Sab pehen lo, bahar thand hai.”

The one similarity between Mumbai and Delhi winter is how it turns everyone into a sun worshipper.

Her heart was in the right place, but I blame her for never being able to date while in school. Being swaddled in layers of fabric, paired with her hand-knitted gloves and cap, meant I could never become that cool boy who came to the school only in his shirt and proudly announced his machismo with the statement, “Mujhe thand nahi lagti.” Certainly, part of the reason I finally did move to Mumbai was so that I could get the joy saying those words at last.

The one similarity between Mumbai and Delhi winter is how it turns everyone into a sun worshipper. Back home, the afternoon sun brought with it respite, and the whole family came out of their rooms to seek the same. With mats spread out and bags of peanuts in our hands, it was time for the afternoon family siesta on the terrace. Everyone would find a spot away from the shade, lie down on the mats and soak in the heat while cracking peanuts. Since grandparents couldn’t risk breaking their teeth, it was our responsibility to do the same for them. As the sun moved westwards, the whole family moved along with it to catch their share of the sunlight before it faded away.

At night, after those games of cricket in the nippy evening air, I’d go back home and snuggle in my grandmother’s shawl, who’d give me a weather update, courtesy Rajat Sharma. She’d tell me about people on the streets dying because of the cold wave, and flights and trains getting delayed because of the worsening fog. But I couldn’t care less. The only news I cared about was whether the government had put out the order to shut down schools or not. More often than not, my hope for extra holidays was met with disappointment.

At night, dad would give me a sip of brandy and I’d pretend to be drunk like I had chugged ten shots of vodka. But I would soon regain my consciousness to prepare for a fierce battle of “Who Sleeps Closest to the Heater?” with my mother. But you can rarely win when your mother reminds you of all the work she’s done throughout the day, especially when all you did was eat peanuts and oranges, and play some cricket. I’d quietly take the next best spot and snuggle in my cosy blanket preparing for another chilly day ahead.

It’s been three years since I left home, and three years since I last experienced a real Delhi winter. As the smog situation in the capital worsens every year, I wonder if the winters I knew are gone forever. So pardon me for leaving my winter clothes packed in the cupboard and obnoxiously asking the question, “Yeh koi thand hai?” Because at this point, nostalgia is all that I and my fellow displaced Dilliwallas have left.