Diffuse sunlight and pleasure

I just got to Delhi from Bangalore. The sendoff in the latter city was great: the skies were overcast, with a darker, wetter layer of clouds looming at the zenith, set at snail’s pace by a strong wind. Delhi wasn’t too bad either. If there was no haze, the sky would probably look like it did in Bangalore, sans the wind. (N. just mentioned that it hadn’t been raining for the last three days or so, but then it began to pour an hour after I reached. I’m more convinced now that I, like Rob McKenna, bring the rain.)

I generally like cloudy weather, and the rain too if I have shelter from it (and don’t have to travel within the city). In fact, going one step meta, I generally like diffuse over direct sunlight and – like most other city-dwellers in Chennai or Delhi, presumably – an ambient temperature below 30º C. The former preference is the more interesting to me, and I thought about it during my recent trip to Coorg (where the same weather conditions prevailed).

What’s the difference between the two forms of natural lighting? Direct sunlight casts darker shadows and is quite warm to the touch. But more importantly, it creates a stronger sense of the passage of time as those shadows shift during the day. With diffuse sunlight, however, time often appears to have stilled. If the cloud cover causing the diffusion is dense enough, then all the available sunlight appears to come from all directions irrespective of the Sun’s position in the sky, except of course at dawn and dusk. This is also why diffusion caused by atmospheric haze is not pleasing: the particulate matter scatters all of the heat whereas clouds reflect out a lot of it.

Overcast days make for the weather worth writing in, with a light that is not too hard on the eyes even as it illuminates the world. It doesn’t wash over in a photonic bleach over leaves, making them yellower than they appear to be. Instead, it holds them gently by the arm and guides them out of the darkness, to display their shades of green as they would like to. It doesn’t break up the ground into misshapen light and dark patches with stark boundaries, preferring to render a fluid blend of white and grey upon which the eye can cruise at ease.

It doesn’t invade the world and remake it in its luminescence but simply softens its glare upon the writer’s eye, letting her mind, fingers and pen work the magic she searches for.