I write this sitting as close to a standing fan as humanly possible without getting injured. I am still one of the few lucky ones to –
- Have a fan
- Live in an ancient house with tall ceilings, cool brick walls and sensible windows.
- Dunk into the freezing ocean at my doorstep
The rest of Canada, especially the West Coast is sizzling like bacon in a frying pan. From The New York Times to BBC, everyone is talking about a ‘Heat Dome’ that has broken 59 temperature records in one day. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera can take a dig at how temperatures in parts of Canada are warmer than Dubai with Lytton in British Columbia reaching a record 46.6 degrees on Sunday and breaking an 84-year-old record! The heat dome is created due to warm air from high pressure systems flowing from North Western USA into South-Western Canada. The air is trapped at lower elevation in layers close to the surface of the earth, ensuring that every bit of moisture on the ground gets sucked into the atmosphere and the nights remain hot and still, thereby creating even hotter days in a row. Basically, the situation is every Indian expat’s favourite cooking appliance – a pressure cooker, except with a lid that refuses to budge.
Walmart and Canadian Tire have run out of fans and air conditioners since last week as people flocked to stores in a fan-buying frenzy. Heck the stores near me have run out of ice-cream! 60% of Canadians live without air-condition, which is good for the planet, not so good for people living in houses with massive glass windows that magnify sunlight as most suburban houses do. The 40-45 degrees plus temperatures outside have turned homes into baking ovens inside. The class with money has checked into 5-star air-conditioned hotels, while the ones without have taken to having 6 cold-showers a day. A text message from a colleague reads as follows –
- “I have been sitting in my bra and panties for 3 days, have 2 fans in my room and a wet cloth near me that keeps drying out in 2 minutes. Tell my family I love them.”
- “Also please send the articles for this week as discussed.”
One friend has been riding the cool underground subways all day while yet another has set up camp in an air-conditioned mall. Movie theatre tickets are nearly sold out and emergency ‘cooling centers’ and ‘misting stations’ have been placed around the city to help the public beat the heat. A man nearly rammed his car into a pedestrian outside on my way to work and waved an apology – “sorry, heat wave!” Outside my window there is an endless stream of shirtless men making their way to the beach.
All Indian expats in Canada have been dismally murmuring, “This is not what we signed up for. We were promised minus 25 to 25 degrees max!” I went to a friend’s house on Sunday. He lives in inland Vancouver where the temperatures are even hotter than in West Vancouver which is near the water. It was a very bad idea. Even in the signature Vancouver costume – flip-flop, ganji and shorts, with not 1 but 3 fans pointing towards me, I was reduced to a salty pool of caramel goo within five minutes of entering the house.
It really makes one wonder; how do we survive India on a regular basis? From Kolkata to Mumbai, Delhi to Chennai, we have all the variations of heat. Dry heat, humid heat, fetid heat, putrid heat, smelly heat, salty heat, vehicular exhaust heat, black carbon-particle heat, open flame kitchen heat and bathroom fans to combat essential activities heat. All this in saris and salwars or pants and shirts. Very few, if any, of the populace roam around shirtless or in bikinis despite temperatures being 40 degrees all summer round. Many engage in daily manual labour at construction sites or make deliveries in the scorching sun compounded by the dust and hot winds. How do we do it? I do not know. Is it because we are used to it? Because of long, flowy cotton clothes designed to catch whisps of air? Talcum powder for prickly heat? Our home in Bengal used to have khass and coir mats hanging on the windows that were cooled by spraying water on them at intervals. Fans are a given in an Indian home as are curtains to block out the sunlight. In Delhi my roommates and I used Air water-coolers to cool the room and newspapers on the windows to keep out the sunlight.
We also drank copious amounts of lassi and survived on a diet of exclusively chaat, cucumbers and raw-mangoes with chilli powder and rock salt and a never-ending stream of paani-puri (sorry, cannot translate the sublime bliss that is a paani-puri). Water in most homes is still stored in clay pots and earthenware containers to keep refreshingly cool. During the summers my mother still stocks the kitchen with tender coconuts, cold litres of ‘aam-panna” (raw mango drink), nimbu paani (lemonade)and thin pudina chaas (mint buttermilk with cumin – made with curd, not the vinegar cooking hack! Rooh-afza again is a childhood favourite and I would kill for a cool tumbler of Solkadi right about now. Whatever it is, a heatwave is a good time for the global north to learn from the global south on energy efficient methods of staying cool under boiling pressure.