The last couple of weeks have been sheer hell here in Chennai !. But friends in other parts of India tell me it is no different where they are. The mercury is soaring all over the place. A colleague sent me a message from Patna airport yesterday telling me that it was 46 deg outside! I felt comforted that Chennai had not crossed 40 yet! My AC in the office does not work and I am always running around to different parts of the building where the AC functions!! The day before yesterday, I had an emotional outburst via email where I complained to my boss and HR about “ torturous working conditions”!
Back home when I was calmer, I tried to reflect on why the heat was bothering me so much? While I agree with climate change etc it might be hotter now, I think at some point our tolerance levels are also coming down. Or is it that I am older and therefore finding it more difficult to cope? So I try to summon some pleasant memories to ease the pain.
I remember a childhood when summer holidays would be spent at my grandparent’s home at Srirangam- all the kids would be running around the compound – our time of most hectic activity being the afternoons when the adults would be napping- the heat never bothered us then! There was only one room with a fan under which all of us used to sleep. But the temptation to sleep with grandfather outside was more than lying directly under the fan with Amma and my aunts!
I really do not remember ever feeling hot during my school days – yes there was a lot of heat generated through the scolding and punishments but none induced by temperature! School uniforms in the evenings would be wet with sweat but we did not care! Kolkata ofcourse had the wonderful cooling effect of the “Kalboishakhi” storms some evenings – inky black skies and stormy winds. Staying as we were on the fifth floor, it was difficult to keep the windows shut. We had these small jute ropes with which we had to tie the windows to the frame so that they did not fly open. There was some construction fault in the building which often caused rain water to lash into the living room flooding it! Oh, how we loved splashing about on the ankle deep water with a bucket and mop in hand .. My sister was s devil- she used to sit on the water getting all her clothes wet while I used to get scolded for it!
Come college and what with my long trek to the University in the outskirts of Hyderabad- the heat sill did not seem to affect me! We used to have semesters that went right through the summers and it never seemed to bother us ( except probably the fact that the water cooler was in a wing far removed from the class rooms). Exam halls often had at the most 2-3 fans but we never cared about it when we wrote those three hour long exams often during mid day ( 1- 4 PM!). It used to be a lot of fun wiping the floors in the evening ( the floor used to get terribly hot as the house we lived in was built on rocky terrain) and filling the desert coolers with water before we retired for the night. Yes, we used to grumble about the boiling hot water that came out of our pipes.
The cooler made awful noises through the nights often moving on its wheels leaving a trail of water behind it – the unlucky person (often being the first to rise) – would slip and fall waking the rest of us!
And what is a summer without mangoes? I remember eating dozens of mangoes every day – different varieties in the different states that we lived in..
Come rain, unlike in Chennai, the rocky terrain in Hyderabad would cool quickly and that hot water in the taps would soon be a distant memory!
There were no air conditioners those days. Only my father’s office room had one and the train compartments in the 2 AC coaches. Cars with ACs were unheard of ( I think only film stars would have had them those days!) .
Today life without air-conditioning seems to be un imaginable for many of us. Even schools advertise AC class rooms.. While not discounting climate change and its ill effects, I wonder if it is us who are changing? Our parents used to complain that water from an earthen pots was okay for them while we would not drink anything other than “fridge water”. So when desert coolers were okay for us , ACs seem to be the norm today..
But whatever, I am longing for a respite. Unfortunately, I do not think I will have one as I live in Chennai, one of the few places which the monsoon visits only on its way out of the sub continent! So, it is a few more months of 30 plus degrees of temperature until due to sheer exhaustion the temperature may drop and I would not be a slave to an air conditioner..
The city of Chennai is strange in the sense it has no systemic coping mechanisms unlike certain other places like Hyderabad where the summer timings for offices and schools are revised so that people are home when it is hottest. Schools often start by 6 AM and close by afternoon.
I guess in a city like Chennai which rarely sees any other season besides, summer, such options are difficult because it would then have to be the norm!
So, here’s to the city with the unchanging seasons- Chennai… ! We do not have to endure what we cannot cure – let us enjoy this ( along with the two hour power cuts) and turn our noses up at the slushy roads in Mumbai and Trivandrum that are soon to hit the television screen!