If wishes were Celsius readings, Mamata Banerjee’s model city London would be playing catch-up with hometown Calcutta.
Wednesday morning brought cold comfort through a Yahoo! Weather phone alert that showed the temperature to be eight degrees Celsius in Calcutta and nine degrees in London. It was one poll promise that Didi had managed to keep, doing what Subhas Chandra Bose and more recently Mahendra Singh Dhoni hadn’t managed: beat the Brits!
The Alipore Met office said the day’s official minimum temperature of nine degrees Celsius was the lowest in the city since January 14, 1989, when a teenaged Sachin Tendulkar was still months away from being an inspired selection for a tour of Pakistan.
London’s nine was, of course, the day’s maximum reading but that’s a small detail Calcutta would happily overlook for the greater cause of a small morale boost.
At Dum Dum, invariably colder than Alipore, the temperature plummeted to 6.6 degrees at dawn, beating the all-time Calcutta low of 6.7 degrees on January 20, 1899. Some south Bengal districts too recorded their all-time lowest temperatures.
Weather scientists attributed the sudden slump in the Celsius to the unusual intensity of a high-pressure region in Siberia, thousands of miles away. It helped that local weather conditions favoured clear skies, allowing the north-westerly wind a free run.
The clatter-inducing chill crept into conversation everywhere from the Metro to mahogany tea tables.
“The night temperature in Calcutta is almost the same as the day temperature in Washington DC. And it is a surprise here in January in Calcutta,” the director of the American Center, Jeffrey Reneau, was heard telling Prof. Thomas F. Schaller of the University of Maryland over tea.
Schaller, a resident of Washington, didn’t bring enough warm clothes because he “didn’t expect it to be so cold here”. The US capital recorded a maximum of 14 degrees on Wednesday, more than double the minimum of 6.6 degrees in Dum Dum.
Mamata, who harbours the ambition of turning Calcutta into London, might take pride in her city’s minimum temperature matching or beating the (maximum) readings in some other world capitals as well.
Tokyo and New York recorded day temperatures of 9 and 11 degrees Celsius. In Hong Kong, the range was 12 to 17 degrees Celsius, the minimum reading several notches higher than Calcutta’s.
Those living on the fringes of the city spoke of how the weather was so much more comfortable within the city. On the Metro, a woman was heard wishing she did not have a pond outside her house. “It’s a boon in summer but I am hating it now. Hoo-hoo korey hawa aashe (the wind keeps howling in),” she said.
Like others in her North 24-Parganas neighbourhood, she has had to seal the smallest of gaps between the floor and the doors of her house with clothes and newspapers to keep the north wind out.
At IIM Joka, second-year student Vishal Rathore has had to adjust his monthly budget to buy extra winter wear. “I am from Uttar Pradesh. So for me, winters in Calcutta are pleasant. But I was not prepared for such extreme weather. It was extremely chilly today and I had to buy extra woollens,” he said.
A man selling soft drinks outside South City Mall sat almost idle while his neighbour in business, a momo seller, was rolling out plate after plate of steaming dumplings.
At the electronics section of the Pantaloons store at the mall, a customer asked for a room heater and was told the entire stock had been sold out.
Divya Srivastava from Dhakuria, who is just back from a trip to the UK, knows the importance of a heater in single-digit weather. “I returned from the UK on January 6 but there were heaters everywhere, so I have ended up feeling the chill more in Calcutta!” she quipped.
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