Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weathering the 100 days in Southern Hemisphere!

This Monday, i.e 30th September, i will have spent 120 days in Sydney, Australia. I have lived most of the 33 years of my life in the Northern Hemisphere – split across Asia, Americas and Europe. This first trip to the Southern Hemisphere has been special in many ways and a new experience especially in terms of weather.

Mumbai, where i have spent most of my growing up years had always left memories etched in my mind, with a coating of bright sunshine or heavy rains. The only memories i have of battling a cold and rough weather in Mumbai has been the winter months between November and February, doing my best to reluctantly wake up and get ready for school. At times, my father used to drop me and my friend Ranjit to school and we used to squeeze into our Kinetic Honda scooter, tucked behind him, each of of us like a mini railway compartment connect to each other - on top of the scooter engine. I used to clutch his tummy tightly and Ranjit used to clutch mine, in an attempt to warm ourselves and secure us for the stretch of the two wheeler ride for the next 2 kilometres till school. At times, Subodh (Ranjit’s elder brother) used to drop us on his Ind Suzuki motorbike and we used to do the same to keep ourselves warm.

The winter months in the USA were exactly 180 degrees to what i have experienced in India. Since 2004, i had lasted over 4 winters in the USA, spending all this time in Connecticut - New England region in East Coast – which can get cold up to minus 20 or minus 30 degrees. It wasn’t uncommon for us to succumb to the winter woes and sulk indoors to vegetate most of the time outside of office hours between the months of October and March. Driving besides piles of snow stacked one over the other by snow machines was a common occurrence. Layers of thick jacket which i had never needed in my life were now close friends who were keeping me warm during the winters. Since you need to drive in the USA, it had also become mandatory for me to embrace the challenges and risk of driving in snow or cold ice. Driving in snow using only your accelerator to negotiate turns and to stop the car can be a very unique and thankful experience as compared to skidding on ice and slamming the breaks.

The winters in Norway have been the most extreme that i ever encountered. The -40 degrees in Connecticut can come close to this experience. The wind chill can indeed kiss your bones more passionately than the flesh and blood around it! The water in the ponds and rivers freezes rock solid during this time. In one of the mountains around Oslo, i remember Meenakshi & I going for a cross country ski’ing expedition with my previous manager. An awesome experience with a few falls, lot of workout and a serene experience of ski’ing atop a frozen lake. Having survived the 2 winters in Norway and the depression due to low sunlight and living alone – away from a newly wedded wife and family have made me more stronger and discover the importance of staying with than staying away!

The 2 winters in Leeds, UK weren’t as bad as Norway or USA. However, though it doesn’t snow much in the UK (one to two days of snow in a year) –the weather can be very chilly and cold – freezing the river seen from our apartment balcony. It is quite common in the UK to experience “four seasons” on the same day – which means rain, sun, wind and chilliness anytime of the year. This unpredictability can only be uniquely experienced in the UK – though it doesn’t depress you as much as a darkly clouded sky at 3pm on a peak Norwegian winter day.

The Australia winter this year has not been as harsh as it used to be earlier – per the popular coffee table conversations with my friends and colleagues. If i close my eyes and try to experience the chills of 6+ years in the Americas and Europe – honestly the Aussie winter is a blessing in disguise and can pass off as a British Summer! I have not used gloves, cap thick jackets, thermals even one day. The maximum i did was wear a jumper underneath my suit to keep me warm – for only a couple of days! The pleasantness of the winter undoubtedly makes the local take outdoor activities like running – which are typically summer sports in Northern Hemisphere countries.

Talking about the weather is one of the most frequently used ice breakers to start conversations, fill up embarrassing silent periods during business meetings with clients or while taking the escalator in the western world. I am a self confessed reluctant conversationalist Geminine – who is not a natural at it – but i dip into this experience to keep the conversations flowing!