Delhi Stories: For weather fans, this is what a genuine Indian summer is like

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The Independent Online

The weather is cooling off at last, and Delhi is emerging from its summer stupor. In colder northern climes we are used to thinking of winter as the time to retreat indoors and wait for the spring thaw. But in Delhi you flee the summer heat, and huddle inside around an air-conditioner instead of a fire.

The weather is cooling off at last, and Delhi is emerging from its summer stupor. In colder northern climes we are used to thinking of winter as the time to retreat indoors and wait for the spring thaw. But in Delhi you flee the summer heat, and huddle inside around an air-conditioner instead of a fire.

Air-conditioning means Delhi's rich and powerful no longer flee to the hills for the entire summer, as was the practice in colonial times, and the city keeps on working. It's hard to think of Delhi as ever being quiet, and even in the torrid heat of summer, it's much livelier than most European cities. But it's not its boisterous self.

Those who cannot afford air-conditioning lie stretched out on every available patch of grass by the roadside in the evenings, trying to catch what little breeze there is. Want a jog? You'll have to get up at 5am, before the heat sets in. When I returned to Delhi from a trip to Calcutta this summer, as the late flight touched down at the airport at just after midnight, the pilot announced: "Welcome to Delhi, where the outside temperature is 38C." "Good God!" exclaimed the gentleman next to me.

When the monsoon arrives, bringing leaden skies and enervating humidity but little relief from the heat, it is even worse. But now the temperature is dropping appreciably from day to day. The city is bathed in golden light, and full life is returning to the streets. The festival season is starting, and craftsmen are putting the finishing touches to statues of the Hindu gods whose festivals come in a rush at this time of year. The city has an air of expectancy about it, like a second spring.

One of the joys of Delhi is its bookshops, which sell an incredible range of books in English. More often than not, you can buy an Indian-published edition of the book you are looking for that is better bound than the equivalent in London, and at a third of the price.

Finding the book you want, however, can be a different matter entirely. One major Delhi bookshop has a shelving system that is simply incomprehensible. Tens of thousands of books appear to be completely randomly stacked around the shop, which makes for interesting browsing. Yet if you're looking for something specific, the staff know where to find it.

Once, when I asked for a book on the 2001 war in Afghanistan, the assistant had to phone the manager at home. She told him where to look, but not by any system. It appeared she had memorised the position of every book in the shop. Left of the front door, she told him, third shelf down, between the Princess Diana book and the Ken Follett.

When things go wrong with the electrics in your home, as they do all the time here, you do not summon an electrician. I discovered this fairly rapidly. At first, I thought all the electric shocks I got from light switches were just a quirk of Indian wiring. But when I tried to clean my computer screen and my hand became glued to it by an electric current passing through my entire body, I decided something had to be done.

But nobody had heard of an electrician. "You know, the man who fixes electric wires," I persisted. "Oh, you mean linesman," I was told. And so the linesman was summoned, to discover that my house was not earthed, which explained why I was getting so many shocks.

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