Whether the weather is hot, or whether the weather is cold, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.English tongue twister
I’ve had a rough couple of nights. My mind has been drawing a blank. “I have nothing to talk about”, I thought. “Then why don’t you talk about the weather?”, a part of mind said. I brushed it aside as banter but as the day wore on, I wondered if there was merit in that idea. We talk about the weather when we have nothing substantial to talk about, or when we want to make small talk, especially with a stranger. It is a great conversation-starter. So, “why not?”, I thought. Why not talk about the weather in a way that will not bore my readers out of their minds? So, here I am talking about the weather. For starters, it is out of whack, especially in India.
I have been suffering from the intense Indian summer heat. I completely and whole-heartedly sympathize with the British, who went to great lengths to escape it. They built quaint towns in higher elevations from the surrounding plains, and named them ‘hill stations’ — a colonial construct. But they did not just stop at that. They were so desperate to flee from the heat of the plains that every year, they would shift the administrative capital from Delhi to Shimla. Suffice to say, I understand and empathize. I have been born here and yet, every Summer, I wish I could trade my kingdom for some cold weather.
It is hard to explain to someone who has not experienced temperatures that go beyond 40 degrees Celsius, how it can impact your body, and especially the mind. While my potted plants gasped and yellowed and shrivelled in the heat, especially my mist-loving peace lily; my brain has been gradually melting and turning to mush. I have done everything to combat this debilitating weather condition, from turning on the air conditioner on full blast and lying under the cool breeze like a beached whale, much to the chagrin of others; to drinking (literally) gallons of water. All week I have been envious of people living in cooler climes. I have been fantasizing of living in a log cabin in the Himalayas. I have been drooling over photographs of chilled beer. I have watched videos of rain, shared happily by friends from different parts of the world. Despite my desperate attempts at staying hydrated, I have suffered a spell of dehydration with splitting headaches and general malaise. So, when I woke up this morning, throat parched and skin clammy, I could not think of writing anything while the blinding sun beat down relentlessly outside. I conceded defeat and decided not to sit down at my desk before sun down. Even after the sun set, the mercury did not dip and I kept procrastinating. But the evening was more sultry than usual and my face, which had been consistently dry all week, felt damp. I kept my fingers crossed while hoping for rain.
My friends in Australia though, who are in the thick of winter are not happy with the rain and chill. Some of them find the weather depressing and I empathise, because SAD is real. SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder which is brought on due to change in weather, especially when there is less sunlight. Most Indians, I dare say, will find this hard to conceptualise but it is quite a common ailment. So, while I have been whining about how the heat is killing me, my Australian buddies, I am certain, were wondering what all the fuss was about. I don’t need to go so far to see how our lives are disparate. While I have been reeling under the heat wave, my parents in the eastern part of the country, have had a rough week too, not from heat but from cyclonic weather. The cyclone Amphan ravaged the eastern coast, laying to waste my beloved City of Joy. The city plunged into darkness for days as electric cables were damaged by fallen trees. While the whole world has been combatting a deadly virus, India has experienced a devastating cyclone in the east, forest fire in a northern state, and a locust infestation in the western states. What’s next? Frogs? Lice? Water turning to blood? Whether we are experiencing the Biblical plagues is a different discussion, for a different day. Today, we are sticking to the weather.
Speaking of which, I have admittedly, always felt calmer on cloudy days, more productive when the sky darkens, and more creative when the cool breeze brushes my cheek. I have always felt that the weather has a big impact on my creativity. When I have broached this topic and spoken at length about how there is a definite correlation, I have had people try to hide their yawn or worse, have had their eyes glaze over. But now, finally, I have evidence. While there is ample research proving the impact of sunshine to create spotless minds, Adam Alter’s book proclaims that sunshine can actually dull our cognitive capacities. Thank you, Adam Alter because I most definitely belong to this category. Not only my mind, but my skin and eyes are hyper photosensitive. When I would wear my shades in the relatively mellow winter sunlight, my friends would think it was a fashion statement. But I know that my eyes can sense glare from diffused radiation where others’ cannot. My skin turns as red as a lobster if I am out in the sun for too long. Summers have always been a season when I have hibernated to the cool indoors with a book, even in colder places like London and Toronto; much to the disbelief of my sunbathing, barbecuing, friends. If there was a menu card for weather and the waiter asked me if I would like the cold or the heat, I would say, “The cold, please. And could you add a slight drizzle and a cold breeze on the side? Oh, and for dessert, I will have the spicy Aztec hot chocolate with marshmallows, please.”
Rain has a special significance in Indian culture. There are innumerable songs about the first showers, associating it with first love. Quite a few popular Bollywood numbers have been choreographed with beautiful actresses singing and dancing in the rain. I prefer watching the rain from the dry indoors. Then there is the smell of rain when it hits dry, cracked earth. It is a smell called petrichor, is caused by geosmin released by the bacteria Streptomyces, that live in the soil. That’s right. There is a name to that all too familiar smell that in Hindi is called geeli mitti ki khushboo. While I was conducting my doctoral research on Indian international students in London, this was something that my participants had mentioned as ‘home’. Petrichor is what they associated with home and they missed it. I wish I would have known that word then. I am certain I would have scored some brownie points with my supervisors back then. No matter, I learned a new word today from my brother-in-law and I am grateful. I love petrichor and I love rain. Nothing in excess. Not the four-month long endless Mumbai monsoons with traffic congestions and waterlogging, and the whole apartment smelling of wet clothes, and which drags on and on like a bad play. Like Madonna says, some nice, clean, rain that “wash away my sorrow, take away my pain.” With that song stuck in my head, panting and wheezing, we decided to treat ourselves to some ice cream after dinner. That’s when we heard it. The welcome sound of…rain!
I am writing at my desk while the rain gently patters against the window sill. The rain has given me some respite, unclogged my mind, and with the creative juices flowing, I recalled the childhood tongue twister (see the opening lines) and realised how much truth there is to it. Come rain or shine, we will have to keep living, because Life is much more than the weather. Life is about filling every
unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…Rudyard Kipling