Summer blues

It was a wonderful spring in North India this year. The temperature stayed between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius throughout March. Usually, it goes up to 33–35. There was periodic rain as well. And there were occasional strong winds. Together they blew away the pollution. The birds sensed the good times and sang late into the evening. The flowers were a bit late off the mark but when they finally bloomed, around the second week of March, it was a sight to behold. Verily, as the poet said the lark was on the wing and the snail was on the thorn and all was right with the world.

The good times carried on into the first week of April and, as I write this, we are well into the second week. The weather is still very balmy. But, as surely as day follows night, I can sense summer approaching, nostrils flaring ever so slightly now, but eventually fire will be blowing through them.

One afternoon in early April, a friend and I went for lunch. The first hint of the heat to come could be sensed and seen through the tiny whirls of dust on the road. My friend, who was brought up in the hills of the western ghats in Kerala, started talking about her first month in a college in Chennai. The heat shock was intense. She said she could not believe that such heat was possible. At night she used to pour water on her mattress to keep cool.

In Delhi University hostel we didn’t have fans and had to rent table fans at ₹10 per month. The problem was that there was only one power socket in the room and we could either turn on the fan or the lamp on the desk. The fan won.

But, I said, Chennai cools down after 4 pm when the sea breeze starts coming in. She said the hostel rooms had west facing windows and no fans. So the rooms became like the inside of ovens after a cake had been baked. Fragrant, because of all the perfume that the girls used but hot as hell as well. So when her father came to visit after a month she wept copiously. He promptly went to the principal and offered to install fans for the whole wing!

I had no such luck, I told her. My father never once visited when I was in the hostel in Delhi University. We didn’t have fans either and had to rent table fans at ₹10 per month. The problem was that there was only one power socket in the room and we could either turn on the fan or the lamp on the desk. The fan won. For those unfamiliar with Delhi, I should add that it gets extremely hot, upward of 42 deg Celsius. My friends and I would throw water on the beds and the curtains to cool the rooms. But unlike in Chennai, it’s very dry heat in Delhi and the moisture would evaporate in an hour.

On occasion my friends and I have even slept on the grass in the lawns. Delhi in those days didn’t have mosquitoes because there was so little vegetation. Now we have both mosquitoes and air conditioners, which is nice except when the mosquitoes also like the air conditioning. That happens in the monsoon months. So we plug in those toxic mosquito repellents. Fifteen years ago we used to burn those coils that filled the room with smoke. So we’d open the windows — only to let in more mosquitoes. And of course, we had to turn off the ACs because warm moist air was blowing in. I told my friend that these were not winnable battles. We are now bracing ourselves for five months of extreme discomfort. The blue skies and cool breeze that we have now will be a distant memory garnished with the fine dust of the vast North Indian plain.

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