Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It's 112 Degrees in Delhi, and Civility Is Setting In

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

It's 112 Degrees in Delhi, and Civility Is Setting In

Article excerpt

It is 3:30 p.m. in the visa section of the South African High Commission in New Delhi, and a crowd of 30 or so visa-seekers stands quietly outside the shuttered windows, waiting for the appointed hour.

The temperature outside is hot even by Delhi standards, about 44.8 degrees Celsius, or as Americans would say, 112 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no air conditioning in the waiting room of the visa section, just ceiling fans that push the hot noiseless air around.

Finally, like the opening gates of the Kentucky Derby, the shutters open, with just one visa counselor behind them. The crowd makes its way to this person's window, and when the counselor moves to another window, almost as if pacing, the crowd tries to move with her. There is no pretense of a line - everyone knows there is just one hour to pick up his finished visa before closing time. And yet, there is not one complaint.

After five summers in India, I've come to the conclusion that summertime brings out the best in the Indian character: patience. Mahatma Gandhi tapped this quality to encourage his mass of followers to stop cooperating with the British colonists until the British just left.

Theoretically, when temperatures soar past the hundred mark, tempers should soar too, but not in India.

Roadside fender benders usually end with shrugs and sighs rather than fists. Slow-moving queues dissolve into sullen crowds.

It's an attitude I can easily understand. It's just too hot to get angry. Blast-furnace heat encourages meditation, not tantrums.

Officially, an Indian summer stretches from late March until early October, but this comes in two distinct parts. One comes before the monsoon rainy season, from around March until late June. The monsoon is a joyous break in the middle, and the inspiration for every wet-sari scene in every Hindi movie ever made. The second part comes along to wipe away the humidity of the monsoon, the way a teacher's rebuke wipes off the smirk from a student's face.

Indians call the dual season garmiyan, literally "the hots." Travel agents and hoteliers have another word for it: the "exodus. …

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