This day eleven years back I travelled to London to intern at an investment bank, in the middle of my MBA. The internship was an academic requirement and popularly referred to as “summer internship” at our school. The term confused people in London, though, with the common reaction being “it isn’t summer now”. Over time I learnt to respond to that with “but it’s summer in Bangalore”.

Back when I was a kid I dutifully learnt from textbooks that there were four seasons – “summer, winter, autumn and spring”. Despite efforts of multiple teachers to explain, I could never understand what autumn (there is no mass shedding of leaves in Bangalore) meant. Some Indian books we had substituted “monsoon” for “autumn” and I started assuming that “autumn” referred to the rainy season.

Over time I have understood that the monsoons are a uniquely India-and-around phenomenon, and they don’t exist elsewhere in the world. What’s taken longer for me to understand, however, is how that has affected my understanding of seasons.

Coming from Bangalore, where April is the hottest month, I’ve always assumed “summer” as lasting from March to May. “Mango showers” start coming in in the beginning of May, cooling down things a bit, and by the time we are in June, the monsoon is in full flow and you might even need a light sweater along with your umbrella.

Things heat up mildly again in October, after the South West monsoon has gone, but the sporadic cyclones of the North-East monsoon aren’t too far away, and there’s a graceful transition to winter. And February is the sole month of “spring” before things quickly heat up again.

It’s April already and things are still cold in Barcelona. It’s not as cold on average as a month earlier – I can occasionally dispense with my scarf, and pavement cafes are more full than before. I still need both a sweater and an overcoat, though, and the winds from the Mediterranean mean that the temperature you feel is much lower than what the thermometer suggests.

While I know that things will heat up in Barcelona in the next month (by which time I’ll be preparing to move back to Bangalore), the fact that things are so cold in April, the month I consider to be the peak of summer, is something that makes me terribly uncomfortable. I also find it quite funny that Barcelona was rather warm in October 2014 (when I first visited, and could walk around in shorts) and is so cold now.

This goes to show how much the monsoons affect the seasons in India, and in South India in particular. In fact, the definition of “summer” (as defined by school holidays) is itself different in different parts of India – South India breaks in April and May, and the North (where the monsoon hits much later) in May and June.

And yet, we continue to teach schoolkids that the “four seasons” are “summer, winter, autumn and spring”

PS: I find it hard to reconcile with the six seasons according to the Hindu calendar as well – maybe those have a North Indian bias

Vaastu Shaastra

My apartment has allegedly been built according to the principles of Vaastu Shaastra. I wasn’t particularly particular about this – in fact, I wouldn’t have minded my apartment NOT following the Vaastu Shaastra if that meant I could get it for cheaper. One such apartment wasn’t available, though, (I presume that market is illiquid), so I settled on this one.

There are several aspects to Vaastu Shastra, at least a subset of which has been followed while designing my apartment, but I will focus on one – the position of the master bedroom. Vaastu Shaastra dictates that the master bedroom be in the south-west corner. I can think of a few practical reasons for this, such as not being woken up with the first rays of sun, and getting the South-Westerly monsoon breeze.

The problem, however, is that the Southwest monsoon is now over and the North-East monsoon has begun. And my bedroom is insanely hot. Irrespective of what windows I open, the South-Westerly location means that most of the time the room is deprived of the cool rain-bearing wind blowing over Bangalore from the North-Easterly direction! From a practical standpoint, the design is not great.

While I believe that most of our “traditions” and “customs” have some scientific backing, my problem is with blind implementation – reading the letter of the ancient rule rather than with the spirit.

And with Vaastu Shaastra, based on the wind patterns here, my sense is that it was not designed for Bangalore, and we have just followed the rules here without analysing their merits. The Vaastu Shaastras, I suspect, were developed somewhere up north (in the Swat Valley, perhaps?), where there was no North-East monsoon. Hence these cool rainbearing winds have been completely left out from the calculations.

And our builders, in their infinite wisdom and guided by televangelists, have decided to adopt these Shaastras by the letter without suitably modifying them for local conditions.


PS: Thinking about it, the Vaastu fascination is to cut decision fatigue when it comes to designing residences. It provides automatic formulae to lay out the house, so you can mindlessly design it and not feel bad about not consulting an architect.