Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wet blankets

You know those people who walk around in 30-40°C temperatures with 80 percent humidity and never seem to perspire? The ones who live in Kolkata, or Kerala, or Jakarta, or Singapore or Mumbai and spend the day tramping around the streets but never have their shirts stick to their backs, or a single dainty droplet trickle from their temples? The ones who look fresh as a daisy no matter how long they’ve been in the sun? I hate those people. It’s people like me, who sweat like a tap at the slightest hint of heat, or humidity, or deadline, that take up the slack for people like them who don’t pull their weight in the sweat gland department.

Living in Delhi is an exercise in chronic urban misery at the best of times, with additional annoyances in the form of extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures, but in the last few days the weather has been, well, there’s no gentle way to spin it, unbelievably disgusting. A couple of weeks ago we had a day that was like Northern Europe in late spring—cloudy, cool, with a nippy breeze. Just when we’d been lulled into complacency, it has soared to 44°C, with humidity levels that feel as if you’re walking around with a freshly boiled towel wrapped around you, and wet-footed ants running around inside it.

I’ve finally understood something I grew up not understanding: the English propensity to talk about the weather all the time. In a website on learning English that teaches you how to speak about the weather, the first sample conversational exchange is:

Q: “What’s it like out?”

A: “It’s miserable out.”

This is a very useful sample sentence both in England and in Delhi in terms of accuracy, even though “out” is a dodgy Americanism, in the same way that “I just paid my electric” is. But it’s not really that English, because being English involves a natural propensity for staggering understatement. My roommate in college, who was half-English, nevertheless displayed this talent as if she were fully English. We would wake up to black skies and shrieking winds, driving snow and temperatures that would freeze your tongue to your palate, and when we stepped out, me bundled up like a polar bear and she in dazzlingly short skirts and stockings, the conversation went more like this:

Me: $%^&* [freezes and falls over, dead as a doorknob]

She: “Fresh, isn’t it?”

Anyway, when you’re young you don’t notice things like the weather, or food, or sleep, or anything much besides the fact that your parents are always wrong. As your body soldiers on through season after season, though, and you look about you for a place to rest your tiring bones, weather elbows its way up the priority list and ends up right up there beside decent bars and good quality health insurance.

The best place to live, weather-wise, is without a doubt in the Seychelles, where the temperature almost never goes below 21° or above 30°C all year long. This is the zone in which I do my best thinking about decent bars and good quality health insurance. A friend of mine who lived in this sort of constant (though more humid) weather in Southeast Asia moved countries in search of a place with four distinct seasons, but I think this is a mistake.

At any rate, I’m doing my damnest to organise things such that I can spend December through February, which are the nicest months in Delhi, in the Sahara desert instead. If it works out, I’ll have proven my hunch that while human beings have a strong sense of what’s best for their bodies, their brains remain weak.


DPrime said...

Am just catching up on your blogs... and, needless to say, this made me laugh! Dx

neha said...

how have I remained deprived of your witty humidity blues, and quirky spins on almost everything else that is life around here or elsewhere! i'd let it pass as a bold but failed attempt to resist addiction!
thank God for archives...a cool-high place! neha.