Living with Calcutta’s record low temperatures

3 Mar

_66148357_untitled-1copy (1)They also have a few brandies (sometimes more than a few) to help them through the cold months. But here in Calcutta, in the east, there is a different reaction. This year the mercury dropped to 9C (48F) – balmy for London or New York in winter, but here it was the coldest day for 100 years. Calcutta is known as the “city of joy”. But believe me, on that day there was little of it in India’s former capital. And all across one of the world’s biggest cities you could hear millions of mothers frantically telling their children “Toopi por, thanda lege jabe,” which means, “Wear a hat, otherwise you will catch a cold.” To be fair, it is a phrase they can use even when the temperatures are as high as 20C (68F). Whatever the thermometer says people here start wrapping up warm in December and keep their hats on until February. And they do not just wear any old hat – it has to be a monkey cap. I had never seen one until I came to Calcutta.

From Our Own Correspondent When I told my cousin this, he looked at me like I_66159545_monkeyhat_ap624 was mad. “You live in England,” he said. “Surely you must wear one even in the summer?” When I explained that I was from Yorkshire, and that even on the coldest days some people only wear T-shirts, I thought he was going to faint. After recovering all he could say was: “To think the British ruled us for so many years and they do not even know how to dress.” For those of you who have never seen a monkey cap here is a quick description. It is a thick woollen hat that totally covers your head, your neck and your ears. The only parts which are open to the elements are the mouth, eyes and nose. It has come to be known here in India as the Bengali topi or hat. Basically, it looks a bit like a balaclava.

When an American friend of mine landed at Calcutta airport recently, to be greeted by the sight of everyone walking about wearing one, he joked that he thought that he had walked into a city holding a bank robbers’ convention. This year there is also a new fashion accessory to accompany the monkey cap. With the temperatures dipping even more, ear muffs are the new must-have. From a distance, it looks like some older Bengalis are wearing huge headphones. And it can lead to some comical scenes.

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