Show a little kindness to lower the temperature

The doorbell rang in the middle of a hot April afternoon in Kolkata.

It was yet another courier, the third of the afternoon.

The temperature was already inching towards 40 degrees Celsius and the humidity was high. The family had drawn the curtains, turned on the air-conditioning and settled in for a post-lunch siesta. But it seemed that every courier in the city had timed their deliveries to coincide with our siesta.

“As soon as it’s afternoon, the bell rings non-stop,” grumbled my mother. “No one can rest or work in peace,” I agreed.

Bills, packages, books, groceries, medicines, gas cylinders—they kept coming, delivered by men on bicycles and motorbikes. Every time I opened the door, the heat hit me like a sledgehammer. The streets were deserted. Even the street dogs were nowhere to be seen. Not a leaf stirred in the bael (Bengal quince) tree outside the house. I stood impatiently at the gate in the blazing sun, waiting irritably as the delivery person rummaged in his rucksack looking for our parcel. I wondered what it would have hurt to have had the package ready before he rang the doorbell.

Then I looked at the man. He had a handkerchief tied around his head. But he was still drenched. This was a few minutes of discomfort for me but it was a whole day’s work for him, all afternoon, probably every day.

“I hope you are drinking plenty of water,” I said lamely. He gestured towards the plastic bottle he was carrying. “What to do?” He said. “Just because it’s summer, the deliveries don’t stop.”

In fact, chances are because it’s summer, more of us are using services that require others to run around so as to allow us the luxury of being indoors. The grocery delivery apps, the food delivery apps, the errand running apps are all working overtime so we can keep our cool.

This summer we will need more of their services than ever. India has just invoked a 21-year-old emergency provision to operationalise its gas-fired power stations from 1 May to 30 June as the electricity demand is likely to spike because of a projected prolonged heat wave. According to Business Today, last year peak power demand hit 243 GW in September, an all time high. This year, the power ministry is projecting it might hit 260 GW. Much of gas-powered generating stations are under-utilised because of commercial considerations.

From a consumer’s point of view of course, these emergency measures are far preferable to power cuts or load shedding. Once newspapers would publish a zone by zone chart of projected power cuts. The reality often outstripped those projections. Sometimes the power would go for minutes, sometimes for hours. If it went in the middle of a favourite television serial or a crucial football match, the curses would ricochet around the neighbourhood.

Load-shedding nights meant dragging a mattress on to the terrace, looking for the hint of a breeze. I remember lying on the terrace looking at the silhouettes of the buildings around us and the patch of night sky above. My sister and I invented stories about a ghost family who lived in the neem tree behind the house. We could see the neighbours in their windows, some of the rooms lit up by the smoky light of oil lamps. When the lights suddenly came back on, a cheer would echo through the neighbourhood as televisions would flicker back to life. “Let’s hurry and have dinner before it goes again,” my mother would say.

As power cuts became routine, people started investing in battery inverters and generators, and every time the power went out, the generators cranked up. That loud rattling noise too became as much part of the city soundscape as its trundling trams and wheezing Ambassador taxis. We looked forward to summer holidays with eager anticipation but then were bored within a week as we lay in pools of sweat scanning the skies for a thundercloud that might usher in the relief of a nor’wester storm in the late afternoon.

But no one talked about climate change and global warming. Summers were hot and sticky but record-high heatwaves did not yet feel inevitable. We still looked for a few blessings of the Indian summer—mangos, litchis, summer holidays. We called summers gruelling of course and complained endlessly as our mothers doused us with prickly heat powder, but now all of that seems strangely nostalgic.

These days, power cuts are a distant memory in Kolkata. Many would say that’s because the state lost so much of its industries over the years. Whatever the reason, we don’t worry about the lights going out as much anymore. In fact, shops, malls, restaurants, homes are air-conditioned beyond anything any of us had grown up with. During summer, our school had “summer school”, where we started early and finished by lunchtime so that we could go home and rest during the afternoon, though it also meant we had to return home panting under the noon-day sun. The cars of course were not air-conditioned. Now students pay a fee for air-conditioned classrooms and during the hottest days, school itself is suspended.

When the first air conditioner arrived in our house, we only had it in our parents’ bedroom. There were just a few special nights when it was deemed hot enough to turn it on. AC nights were treat nights for me, for the whole family piled into my parents’ bedroom. It was like a pyjama party and I would feel guilty about hoping and praying some nights that it would be muggy enough to be designated an “AC family night”. But there were strict rules. The air conditioner had to be turned off by 7 in the morning. If we used it in the afternoon, it had to be switched off by five. Even after we had turned it off, if we kept the doors shut tightly, the floors remained deliciously cool for hours. My mother would scold us if we went in and out too much. “All the cold is escaping” she would say, as if the cold was something the air-conditioning genie caught and stoppered in a bottle. We complained about our beastly summers, but we could probably count the number of AC nights on our fingers. Now every bedroom has air-conditioning, as do living rooms. The other day I said ruefully I didn’t want to host a dinner party in the summer because there was no air-conditioning in my living room. No one batted an eye.

But all the air-conditioning, instead of making us forget about summer, somehow reminds us even more grimly about the heat outside. There are few places as freezingly cold as the innards of an Indian mall at the height of summer. And the moment we step outside, the heat hits us like an slap across the face.

There are many reasons for our changing summer beyond climate change. It doesn’t help that the cities are losing tree cover and water bodies, and concrete blocks are replacing the old airier houses. Now we design our cities for air-conditioning. The International Energy Agency estimated last year that India’s demand just for running household air conditioners will expand nine-fold by 2050 and outstrip total power consumption in all of Africa today.

We live in a country that is seeing increasing heatwave events and strange anomalies. Kolkata was hotter than Churu in Thar desert this week while Delhi was more pleasant than sweltering Bengaluru. The old quaint rituals of summers past have fallen by the wayside. But there are new rituals we can practise even as we shelter from the mutated summers of today.

Offer water to the delivery person. Refill the water bottle of the man who comes to service the water filter. Put out a bowl of water for birds and stray animals.

It might not lower the temperature outside, but a little kindness will lower the temperature inside, now that our summers of discontent are here to stay.

Cult Friction is a fortnightly column on issues we keep rubbing up against.

Sandip Roy is a writer, journalist and radio host. He posts @sandipr

Crime Today News | Lifestyle & Fashion

Source | Powered by Yes Mom Hosting

Crime Today News

Welcome to Crime Today News, your trusted source for timely and unbiased news coverage. Since our inception in 2014, we have been dedicated to delivering the latest updates to our valued readers and viewers across Telangana.

Related Posts