Friday, March 23, 2007

Hot, hot, hot!!

Things have been heating up in South India since the middle of January and now the soaring temperatures are something to be contended with. Typically, these days, we have a high of around 37C (99 F). Whichever way you look at it, that’s hot.

It’s a dry heat in Tirupati, though, so not unbearable. The same was the case in Saudi Arabia, where we experienced temperatures that rose well above 40C (104F) by early afternoon.

So, as you see in the picture above, when walking outdoors in the middle of the day, I use an umbrella to protect my bald pate from the direct rays of the sun.

Even some of my Indian students use umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. Alternatively, they’ll cover their heads with the yard or two of extra cloth at the end of their saris which, in most cases, they otherwise drape gracefully over their left shoulder.

If they’re wearing a salwah, as shown in one of the pictures above, they’ll often cover their heads with the long, loose, silk or cotton shawl that they wear from front to back across their chests and over their shoulders for purposes of adornment and decorum. They look beautiful to me when they do this with their saris or shawls, their faces framed by the flowing dress material.

This afternoon I saw a girl on the back of a motorbike covering her head with a newspaper.

It’s hot!

In the steamy sub tropics of Nigeria and Florida, because of the humidity, it gets distinctly uncomfortable in the summer months. In Florida we can count on air-conditioning, so we can go from our air-conditioned houses, in our air-conditioned cars, to an air-conditioned store anywhere in town. In Nigeria, on the other hand, where I lived for two years in the 1970s, there was no electricity, so no question of air-conditioning or even fans, other than those made by the locals out of straw, which we held in our hands and flapped at our faces in a useless attempt to try to cool off the old-fashioned way. The energy required to flap the fan actually generated more heat and just made matters worse—and I couldn’t afford a servant to do it for me.

Ah, for those halcyon, decadent days of the British Raj!

Earlier this week, in Visakhapatnam (Vizag), which is on the ocean, the humidity was predictably high. I was housed in a hotel where there was no air-conditioning, but I did at least have a fan. I figure I can survive any kind of heat if I have a fan. I just collapse in a comfortable chair and flake out under the fan.

They didn’t have air-conditioning in any of the classrooms or lecture halls at the universities or colleges I visited in Vizag (a college in India is a school students go to for the two years prior to university). I didn’t benefit from the fans in the lecture halls, either, because I like to move around; it didn’t even occur to me to park myself under one of the fans. So by the time I was done with a presentation I was usually soaked with sweat. I swear I could have wrung out my shirt and produced a glassful of the stuff if I’d chosen to try.

Drinking water has become liquid gold, nectar indeed. I carry a bottle of it with me in my laptop bag and ply myself with it at every opportunity till the supply is gone. Then, when I get home from the university, I engorge myself from the 25 liter bottle I have in my room, before stepping under the blissfully soothing shower, where the water from the cold faucet is almost too hot from the sun's beating on the rooftop tank.

Believe it or not, in order to cool down the hot water coming from the cold faucet, I turn on the hot faucet. The relatively cold water from the geezer's tank in the bathroom mingles with the hot water coming from the roof and makes it cool.

Go figure.

Barbara Gasdick, my wife Marilyn's best friend, asked me why I wear long sleeved shirts when it's so hot. Well, I'm very susceptible to skin cancer and have been treated for a couple of lesions over the past few years. So I cover up as best I can.

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