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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life in Chennai #13: Beating the Heat

When I discovered that it was now impossible to get cold or even room-temperature water out of the taps (even the “cold” tap only gives very warm water) I realised that India’s summer, is an entirely unique animal. With temperatures rising weekly well into the 40’s, the summer heat, like everything in India, is not something to be fought and overcome; instead you adapt yourself to it, surrender to it.

Which makes the title actually a bit of a misnomer: because, in truth, there is no way to actually beat the heat in Chennai. It is like the Star Trek Borg: Resistance is Futile. Even the refrigerators have given up and are claiming rights under the Geneva Convention. The only option is to adjust to it and find a way to learn to love it, or at least grin and bear it. And failing, that, make light of it all, ‘cause it ain’t gonna change.

It is a bunch of little changes, new rules of life you have to get used to, that make it funny. Like for example having now to plan to get chocolate – you can no longer just pick one up any ol’ where. If you want to get a chocolate bar to eat at home, you now have to arrange to get it from a store within a few blocks of your house or else it will literally melt into a puddle before you get home and you really have to buy it from a proper supermarket with a/c to even get one that is still solid enough to eat without a straw at all. It is accepting new inconveniences like that the power goes out twice as often these days and that you can really no longer get or buy anything “cold”. The best refrigerators can do is “cool” and with the frequent power cuts, you cannot rely on even that (a major consideration for buying anything perishable). So your chocolate is goo, your juice warm and your shower hot. I don’t even want to talk about ice cream…

So with these funny little things in mind, I’ve been pulling together a list of how to adapt, how you have to adapt to the summer heat in India. Enjoy!

  • Have 3 showers a day. Enjoy your free hot water. I haven’t used the water heater since I’ve been back and don’t expect to for months. On the down side, after a day of work, sweaty and grimy, a solar-heated hot shower isn’t exactly what you were looking for, but that’s just the way it is.

  • Be one with the fishes. The hardest I think to get used to, but the most important to mentally deal with, is that you are wet and dripping with sweat all the time. Day, night, at work, at home. It is truly amazing how much water can come out of your skin with so little work. You’re never dry. I’m about to grow gills. Hopefully it’ll help. I’ll report back.

  • Walk slower. I understand fully now why people move slower in the tropics.
    Drink lots of water. Lots and lots and lots of water. My God! I can’t believe how much water I’m drinking. We’re thirsty all the time, putting back glasses like we’re doing shots.

  • The IV drip backpack. That is the perfect solution to the water and salt intake challenge – just carry around your own personal, portable IV plugged into your arm. This is my grand idea, admittedly potentially born of fever, but I’m convinced it could make me millions on the convenience factor!

  • Get well acquainted with your pharmacist. Talcum powder, prickly heat, fungal cream, rashes, antiseptic ointment, skin care, and things you never had or needed before become everyday occurrences.

  • Dance in the afternoon thunderstorms.

  • Get used to living your entire indoor life under a fan. Sleep under it, eat under it, work under it; it becomes your little column of relative comfort. What is really funny is that I finally understand what paperweights and all those stupid corporate desk objects are actually for and finally find them useful. Everyone at out office needs 3 or 4 or risks losing any paper you inadvertently set down to a jumble throughout the room.

  • Half the expiry date. I don’t care if the milk says “best before” a month from now. Expect that it has been un-refrigerated without power at some point and play it safe. Buy fresh and finish everything in your fridge within the week. It is actually a healthier lifestyle anyway.

  • Wear as little as possible. This is where the Indian custom of modesty and working in an office gets in the way, but at least you can sleep naked.
    Be thankful they don’t report the humidex “with the humidity, it actually feels like…” here. It feels like soup, that is what it feels like. Hot mulligatawny soup. ;-)

  • Be pre-emptive about your body getting worn down. Understand that living and processing is taking more energy than before so minimize how much you stress it. It means being more careful again, considering avoiding street food, juice vendors, tap water and snacks from the wallahs again because the chance of them making you sick is just so much higher these days. I hate this one. I’ve never been good with my own advice and still break this regularly, if perhaps not quite with as much abandon as before.

  • Accept that no matter what you do, you will get sick at some point. It doesn’t matter if you have an iron gut, super immune system or take acidophilus. You are not Superman. The bugs here are stronger and come in so many nice varieties. So accept your mortality.

  • Sit up straight. Seats make your back sticky and wet.

  • Remember that people pay a lot of money at gyms and spas for thing you experience by just going outside. Steam bath, sauna, hot name it. I’ll even buy you a cucumber from the stall down the street to wear on your eyes.
    As it is said in the movie Dogma, “No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater... than central air.” I hate a/c, but it is a very necessary evil.

  • Go on vacation. This is why the British and Moghuls before them built the hill stations. They were onto something. Join the masses of anyone who has the means to get their ass up some elevation. Sadly, I had accomplished this for April, but stupidly came back. Damn do-gooding... ;-)

  • Pray for the cooling monsoon rains to come. Oh, that’s right. Tamil Nadu doesn’t get the summer monsoons. It’ll stay hot through Aug. Oh well. For everyone else in the country, monsoon just started in Kerala. Enjoy the cool…and the floods. Whoever said you could win?

But in all seriousness, know that everyone goes through it with you. Everyone looks a little wilted on those really hot days, everyone crowds around the fans at the restaurant, everyone is damp. So stop whining and learn to love it, or at least laugh at how many silly situations this presents.

For those others that have or are living here, post your tips and your own observations of the silly ridiculous things you have to do to deal. ;-)


Hot Soup said...

Great observations, McKay. You have a keen eye for details like sweaty seat backs, and a whimsical way of drawing comparisons - cucumber spa and mulligatawny soup!

But yeesh, horrible memories of August trips to Taiwan. FUNGAL CREAM?

Erica said...

This was a hilariously practical post - you should submit it as an article to Bootsnall or at least post it on the Thorn Tree. Share this hard won advice! :)

Govar said...

I have no idea how I landed here. I used to detest the heat (was born abd brought up in India) and used to think a life in snow is heaven on earth. That is till when I visited Connecticut this winter. Snow storms one after the other, and the bulky layers that you got to wear just to keep yourself alive. Man, I really loved coming back to the summer that India is. April to Aug troubles you in Chennai. And you got 8 months of pleasant weather right after. Wait for Aguust!

Kannan said...

Haha....good article. Wow did you really move to Chennai? I moved out of Chennai and India because of the heat. Chennai is a good place to visit in Dec-Feb. But after that, it's just hot and humid.