When a person is accustomed to 138 in the shade, his ideas about cold weather are not valuable….In India, “cold weather” is merely a conventional phrase and has come into use through the necessity of having some way to distinguish between weather which will melt a brass door-knob and weather which will only make it mushy.
– Following the Equator Mark Twain
Someone recently asked me what fall was like in India. Honestly, I have no idea. The weather recently turned from the monsoon season, which was days upon days of pouring rain, flooding our courtyard and the streets around us, to sweltering weather. So I guess fall is…something like that?
Last year, I moved to India in September (GOOD Lord), at the tail end of the season. This year, the season stretched on into the high holidays, and I celebrated Rosh Hashanah in the basement of a tiny synagogue in the heart of South Bombay, waiting for the rain to pass.
It is a strange thing to live in a place where it rains for months, and then doesn’t rain for months. Still, the extremes of India actual have highlighted an aspect of Indian behavior I had not previously understood. I thought Americans, specifically East Coasters, were obsessed with talking about the weather, but that’s nothing on Indians. Every time I talk about a place, or we visit a place, or people come back from a vacation somewhere, within five minutes someone will ask about the weather. How was the weather? Did you have good weather? Is the weather generally good? I went away for the weekend just for the weather.
I personally don’t think much about the weather in a larger sense. I mean, I look it up, so I know what to wear, but in terms of travel, it doesn’t dictate many of my decisions. Frankly, it just doesn’t affect me much. Which is probably a good thing, given where I currently live. I was reading a travel forum before I moved to Mumbai, and a woman from England had asked where she could travel in India if she didn’t like temperatures above 70 degrees farenheit. The advice from the forum? Don’t go to India.
So it’s always interesting to me that other people ask how the weather is wherever I go. Part of this might be a product of the fact that my parents consistently planned vacations for us during the winter, usually around Christmas because A. we are Jewish so who cares about Christmas and B. It’s the off-season for many European countries, sneaky travel tip! So the idea of traveling for the sake of going somewhere with better weather has never been a part of my understanding of traveling. But here, I suppose because the weather is so….present, that does seem to be a part of the logic.
Mr. India and I recently went to Cambodia, and I will say, this is the time to go, it’s much cheaper because it’s not the high season. We had an amazing time at Siam Reap, exploring ancient temples and palaces, devouring Cambodian cuisine, luxuriating in the culture, but the first thing many people have asked us has been, How was Cambodia? How was the weather?
Somehow weather is synonymous with experience here. Could it be that a whole nation is so deeply affected by the climate? And how is that even possible when it’s so hot all the time and it’s all most people I meet have ever known? I mean, does someone from Mumbai go to a slightly cooler place for the first time and kneel down and kiss the ground or something? Does it become their mecca? If that’s the case, why does Mumbai have TWENTY MILLION PEOPLE LIVING THERE? India, you gotta start LIVING YOUR PRINCIPLES. If you like cooler weather so much, go pursue it!
Having been here a year now, I still have people asking me how I do it, that is, how do I live in India? How do I deal with the weather? I don’t know, really. Copious amounts of skirts? A commitment to natural fibers? An investment in many ice trays? Accepting the things I cannot change? Embracing the way of tao? Maybe all of the above!
It’s hard for me not to be judgmental or roll my eyes when people eagerly ask me about the weather. I mean, I’ve just described the magnificent culture of Siam Reap, the astounding temples, the way I was so happy climbing up and down massive structures left over from the Khmer Empire and you want to know what the temperature was? On some level, I do still feel that this is petty, a silly concern. Who cares what the weather is like as long as you are seeing or doing something amazing? As long as you aren’t caught in massive mudslides, or freezing to death, what does it matter? But that said, perhaps that is in fact a privileged position, the perspective of someone who comes from a land of variety and is therefore in some ways less fatigued of the sameness that Mumbai represents, that much of India, frankly, represents.
That being said, maybe I’m just a strange person whose mood isn’t affected by the heat. Because I will say that days upon days of pouring rain left me sleepy and filled with cabin fever, eager to march out into the messy wet streets of Mumbai just to keep from going a little insane. But who knows, maybe next year I will be so used to it that I sew myself a few waterproof bubbles and roll around the town.
There is only one thing that actually feels different to me about this season, actually, and it’s the blooming of the Scholar’s Tree. This tree had white flowers that emit a heavy glorious smell, momentarily banishing all of the not-so-nice aromas of human waste and rotting garbage that otherwise make up the perfume of an Indian city. I noticed it last year in Kolkata, and this year I smelled it in Mumbai. So maybe the weather here wont help you out, in terms of changes, but that just means there are other, subtler, ways of seeing time pass on by. Happy Fall, everyone!