Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The onset of the monsoon

By September, weather reports on television showed more blue arrows than red. It was, and is, winter’s way of arrival into the mole-like life of a university dormitory resident. Outside, the leaves may have turned a warm colour and the crispness of incoming cold may have cut through the air, but inside, buried amid books and CDs and oil paints, it was television that told us Christmas was upon New York.

The charm of winter was intertwined tightly with Christmas. Street after street hosted holiday sales and Salvation Army Santas rang bells outside major subway stations. People seemed to smile and shrug if they were shouldered on those busy sidewalks. An inexplicable haze of peace and understanding prevailed in a city where making eye contact was once grounds for a knifing. Could this have only been the doing of Christmas? The cold was a deterrent; after all, you couldn’t put your fists up because they were warm deep inside your pockets, and a shut mouth was a warm mouth.

Everywhere you looked, the pavements belonged to black trenchcoats; within the uniform was a uniform walk: upright, rigid, purposeful. It was the walk of escape from winter. Beneath their feet, steam rose from metal grating connected to the subway. If the weather was unbearable (rarely), there were the delis and home comforts of Starbucks to warm your insides. There were pizza places with names like ‘Luigi’s’ and ‘Mario’s’ that served piping hot slices. New York was as cold as you allowed it to be.

On silent Brooklyn streets, lights filtering out of windows contrasted with the darkness outside. Where there was warmth, people congregated. A meeting point could have been a barrel ablaze, a hotdog stand, but it was more likely to be around other people, for the warmth sought was also of a personal kind.

The Central Park ice rink hosted experts and amateurs, as did the one at Rockefeller Center. The sound of laughter and music and muffled thumps floated about. When it snowed, amid the floodlights, it was a fairytale. The Santas became more real, Christmas gained currency, and winter was finally proper; no more talk of wind chill or anything else, the first snow put an end to that. It was almost like being in India at the onset of the monsoon.

(This is one more in a series of pieces on Dubai and New York for DNA.)

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