HEAT WAVE

Illustration: Shyam G. Menon

Illustration: Shyam G. Menon

This summer has been deadly.

So far, over 2200 people have died from the heat in India, most of them in central India and parts of north India and eastern India.

It has been a heat wave of several days.

While heat waves have been there before and people have died, this is the highest death toll in the past nearly four decades.

As June 2015 dawned, the monsoon was reportedly nearing the subcontinent.

This year’s monsoon is tad delayed.

The regular debate on how good the rains will be is on.

Once upon a time, the idea of good rain was the monsoon itself.

Now a super organism of 1.2 billion people with hunger and consumption to match, India’s worry around rain and agriculture is more.

As the economy took centre stage, ` how good’ as measured goodness, became annual fashion.

Spread of rainfall and intensity mattered; percentage replaced perception.

Simply put, good rain is sufficient rain, where it matters, when it matters.

Unfortunately it is becoming an all too familiar pattern: life on land wilts under scorching heat, everyone prays for rain and the monsoon’s passage is delayed, arrested or hijacked by unexpected developments.

There are delays in monsoon – delay before onset; delay after onset, even lulls in monsoon not different from lethargy to human brought on by heat wave.

Long after the monsoon’s birth and its arrival in our neighbourhood, there is the potential for cyclone, anticyclone and other such lures.

Freaks are many in contemporary weather.

The monsoon cavorts with these freaks.

From mere rain occurring annually, we are at last noticing the complex nature behind rain faithfully delivered.

Years ago when I was in school, El Nino was warming of the ocean off the coast of Chile in South America, which we studied in geography class.

Now it finds mention in the news every summer, for its occurrence and non occurrence affects India’s monsoon.

The interconnectedness of global weather; its vast underlying network of events – it is humbling insight.

Does it humble us?

Our egos are big.

We live as we please with our growing numbers unquestioned, our ways unchallenged, ourselves above nature and none above us.

Our survival is all that matters.

The perspective takes its toll.

What is sure from summers of the recent past and the summer of 2015 is that Indian summers are getting hotter.

News reports quoting studies say extreme weather will be a feature going forward.

Get ready for hot summers.

Mumbai bakes and steams.

My sister Yamuna, who took a few days off from work in Wardha to visit me in Mumbai, texted on her return to central India: “ 47 degrees.’’

She had found hot, humid Mumbai a relief.

When I complained, she said, “ at least, you are not getting hot wind in your face.’’

Even in Mumbai – the city that never sleeps – signs of afternoon listlessness abound.

Despite the high number of deaths from heat, the issue and its underlying message haven’t seeped into India’s imagination.

Occasionally in the wake of rising death toll, a few people comment on the importance of preserving forests and planting trees.

A lesser number wonders about urbanization, traffic and concrete jungles as amplifiers of heat.

India’s imagination is controlled by the supporters of unchanging India.

I leave it to you to think what unchanging India is.

To my mind, it exceeds the old, the traditional and the conservative and includes the burden of 1.2 billion people trying to survive earning money.

How will such a rat race and its priorities, notice the significance of climate change?

The gravity of climate change doesn’t register in unchanging India.

In some days from now, when the rain drops fall, the summer of 2015 and its death toll will become statistic; another reminder, forgotten.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)

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