Last night, returning home after a late dinner, I could smell the smoke of the wood-frees. All over the city the wood-fires. All over the city, the poor living on the pavements and the watchmen of the rich who live in tall buildings had lit bonfires.
Driving into the heart of the city, past bustees damp and over-crowded, I could see the warm golws of fire. And, occasionally, I could see the smoke rising from them into the cool air.
In other cities of the world, they light bonfires to roast chestnuts and sing songs and sit around them in warm circles and tell stories. In Bombay and other cities of India, they light them to keep their limbs warm and their families warm. I have always felt that God has been kind in the kind of weather he has provided Bombay. A longer and more severe winter would have frozen to death half the city that camps nightly in the streets and on the pavements. But winter is not Bombay's hard season, it is the monsoon.
In any case, winter is here. I felt it through the night, lying in the bed, feeling too lazy to get up and close the windows, draw the curtains, search for a blanket.
And I observed the night extending into morning, the sun keeping away from the cold for a few extra minutes, the dawn being delayed. And the dawn itself, wintery, the sky washed in gentle colours, frost on the windows, on the tops of cars.
It is at once the start the winter and the winter at its peak. For the winter season in Bombay is brief, a few days of cold, crisp weather and then back to the warmth and humidity of perennial summer.
Most people, coming from colder climates, laugh at Bombay's winter. There is no ageing of the trees, no snow, no freezing of lakes, no white winter scenes. Which is true.
But there are other signs of winter which only a Bombay knows. The crackle of woodfires along the pavement settlements, the thinning of the trees so that you can look into the house on the other side of the street, the shortening of the days, the wintery dusk that the evening traffic drives home through at 6 p.m.
And the sea, always the sea. Bombay is an island city, the sea all around it, though, except for the fishermen, the rest of the city seems to forget it. And the sea reflects Bombay's seasons more than anything else.
Placid in the summer, like a sheet of glass, reflecting the sun, wild and blustery in the monsoon, tearing into the breakwaters, and with a velvet sheen in the winter, the mist hanging low over the waters in the bay, covering the shoreline opposite. When this happens, it is winter in Bombay, alright.