Delhi is hot. Not just record highs, but lows notable for their record highness. (“The city recoded its highest minimum temperature for June in over 40 years”, gasps the HT.) And when it gets that hot — when Hauz Khas reservoir starts to look refreshing — thoughts turn towards Delhi’s rarest of commodities: the swimming pool.
This is Hauz Khas Reservoir. After ten minutes in an autorickshaw on the BRT, you’ll want to dive in.
There were many times in our Delhi experience when our melting brains coagulated around swimming as our only salvation. At those times, our thoughts turned immediately to the US Embassy: inside its thick walls, past its mustachioed guards, a full-sized swimming pool beckoned, complete with screaming children and floating toys and, presumably, genuine imported Rocky Mountain springwater. But that pool is reserved for employees of our government, their families, and those few civilians for whom access to the Budweiser and hot dogs of Delhi’s Phoenix-on-the Yamuna is worth the $1,400 a year for membership.
Our budget did not allow for such luxuries.
Which meant that for us, relief was hard to come by. Even cold showers weren’t an option — not when our water was stored in a black plastic roof-top tank. During the early afternoon sun, our showers were as hot as we were.
Hope arose early into our first Delhi summer. As the true definition of “hot” asserted itself in all its sweat-spewing intensity, rumors of an aquatic Brigadoon began to reach our ears. It appeared but for a few hours every Sunday night, the whispers said: the Park Hotel’s public pool party. Our dripping minds would latch on to the vision, and our perspiring hands would reach to phone an AC cab — but we’d never make the call. Because it was, after all, The Park Hotel; surely a minimum bicep size was required for entry to the spring at which Delhi’s fawning nymphs frolicked.
Some things in life are reserved for the pretty people. And even though my bare back left grease stains on the sofa, at least my ego remained solid, if not slightly gelatinous. But fear not, fellow proles! For those of us whose silhouettes would never be mistaken for Salman Khan’s, most five-star hotels have pools! And they offer daily guest passes!
(But only if you have five-star money.)
On one particularly desperate Saturday, Jenny and I splurged and plunged. Ignoring the glaring inequities of swimming in a landlocked city with chronic water shortages, we handed over what most Delhiites would regard as a terrific weekly salary in return for a few blissful hours getting sunburned beneath the waters of the Intercontinental. We felt nothing but guilt, rest assured; blissful, sweet, cooling, chlorinated guilt.
(A few weeks later, we spent an hour casing the pool at the Hyatt, noting the number of swimmers against the attentiveness of the attendants; and while we both agree its quite possible to wander past reception, change in the bathroom, and swim without paying, we were never so desperate as to try.)
According to the Times of India, there are actually 125 licensed swimming pools in Delhi. A few of them are run by the city, including the pool at Siri Fort, the sports complex near our Hauz Khas flat. The paper says that up to 100 members and paying guests can sign up in advance for each of the pool’s eleven one-hour daily swimming shifts — a brief-but-glorious respite for 0.0078% of Delhi’s population.
But despite the fact that Siri Fort’s pool was both within walking distance and far more affordable than any other option, we never went. That’s because we knew that there would be boys at the complex. Boys, and men who retain the maturity of boys. Combine that inevitability with the presumed rarity of female foreigners wearing swimsuits, and Jenny would have had to endure the poolside equivalent of her walk up the minaret stairs at Jama Masjid: a gauntlet of ocular groping.
A hot shower at home was actually the least uncomfortable choice. Although if we’d been in Delhi this summer, we might have changed our minds.