Season of Surprise

‘Tis the season to be merry?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But ‘tis certainly looking like the season to be surprised.

Once again.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has set the ball rolling by predicting that large parts of the country will reel under temperatures higher than normal and that the seasonal average temperature is set to be higher than normal by over 1 degree Celsius.

We are surprised.

After years of rapid development, with millions of fossil fuel burning cars added to the roads, agricultural and forest lands being consumed to build wider and wider roads in an effort to get those cars moving and so that the common man feels like he is living anywhere but in India, building shiny new energy-guzzling highrises, putting many water bodies out of the misery of their daily struggle for survival, transporting food and water from greater and greater distances, we are surprised.

We are surprised that this is happening again. Because it had happened just last year in the summer, which was one of the hottest recorded in recent memory. And the previous year in the summer. And the previous year again.

Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, it is recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

It is a surprise that summer is coming back at all. With its many surprises.

We will be surprised to see peak load requirement going up in the summer as more and more people switch on their air-conditioners.

We will be surprised to experience frequent failures in the grid-supplied power as the grid buckles under peak-load demand.

We will be surprised when residential societies as well as commercial developments switch on their diesel-powered generation sets and produce their own power to offset the grid failures. We will also be surprised that noxious fumes emitted by these generators will add to the pollution woes of the city.

We will be surprised when, despite uncontrolled drawing of ground water for industrial and other uses, the water table plunges further.

We were expecting November-like bracing conditions to prevail through most of May and June, but looks like IMD had other ideas. If putting out realistic and reasonable facts and figures is all it can do, does a rapidly developing nation like ours really need an IMD? But that is for our political leaders to answer. Let us enjoy the beauty of life while we can. With its ability to throw up surprises every day and every minute.

Summer will be followed by monsoon. Yet another surprise. Seriously, did anyone know about this?

Come monsoon and we will be surprised to realise that water can flow from higher to lower level of ground. And that constructing in its path without adequate assessment of capacity will lead to impeding the flow of water and cause water-logging.

We will be surprised to know that open ground absorbs rainwater much faster than land that has been constructed over. As a corollary, we will be surprised to realise that slower absorption of rainwater leads to a slower recharging of groundwater resources.

We will be surprised to know that that poor quality material used in building of roads leads to the surface being washed away leaving gaping holes for traffic to navigate. We will be equally surprised to understand that gaping holes in the road surface and water-logging on roads leaves only narrow usable channels for traffic on otherwise wide roads, which leads to massive traffic jams with people leaving office at 6 PM reaching home 15 km away at 5 AM the next morning.

We will be surprised to realise that rainfall does not have a mechanism through which it can stay away from areas prone to water-logging and poor drainage.

We will be surprised to know that random dumping of waste and stagnant water is a toxic combination that leads to breeding of mosquitoes, among other vectors, that leads to the spread of malaria, chikangunya, dengue and other diseases. As a corollary, we are even more surprised to learn that preventing collection of stagnant water and keeping our surroundings clean can prevent vector-borne diseases to a great degree.

It is a surprise that these are happening again. Because they had happened just last year during the monsoon. And the previous year in the monsoon. And the previous year again. Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, they are recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

The beauty of life. Knowledge and learning at every step. The faster one is able to forget past learnings, the more one will keep learning. As long as one is open-minded. And not repeatedly asking “why is this not fixed?” or “who is responsible for this mess?”

And if that is not enough of surprises, winter, which just about got over, will come back. Did you know that?

We will be surprised that the cold winter air, with all noxious fumes and other pollutants emitted into it, will hang low and not get dissipated as easily as in the non-winter months, when it blows the pollutants away to unsuspecting people in other geographies.

We will be surprised that respiratory issues will abound in the winter months and that the masks people wear are not a natural adaptation of the human species to environmental stimuli.

We will be surprised that the days are short and nights long.

We will be surprised that it gets cold.

It is a surprise that these are happening again. Because they had happened just last year in the winter. And the previous year in the winter. And the previous year again. Despite doing nothing to prevent a recurrence, they are recurring. Isn’t it surprising?

And then, surprise of surprises, maybe even a shock, summer will be back. Who could have predicted that?

 

Summer Delight

In May and June, the Northern plains in India burn under a relentless summer sun. Daytime temperatures go upto 45 degrees (Centigrade, which, for the benefit of my western world friends, equates to 113 degrees Fahrenheit) for a good part of two months. Live here during these two months and the craving for escaping to the sunny climes will be cured, forever, if you do live to tell the tale.

As this period coincides with the summer break in schools, this is the time when people make an effort to get away to cooler climes. Further the better, of course distance being directly proportional to the wallet-size. Usually.

We took a short holiday this summer. To a nearby (don’t jump to unrelated conclusions about my wallet-size!!) hill-town, about 300 km. from Delhi.

The idea of such a holiday, to me, has always been to, of course apart from the sheer fact of getting away from the daily humdrum for a short period, breathe in the salubrious mountain air and allow the body to feel the various muscle groups by walking up and down the hill slopes, that sedentary city lifestyles makes one forget even exist. Even though it is always only for a few days. And this is what I looked forward to on this occasion as well.

It is amazing what good weather can do.

There were people checking in and out of the hotel all the time. As soon as the check-in formalities were completed, the guests would energetically move to their room, and switch on the TV. To be seen only when their favourite programmes were over, or at breakfast-time in the morning. In a place where the climate was not so bracing, the same movement from the hotel front-office to the room and switching on the TV would take considerably longer.

When not watching TV, people were energetically moving around town. In and out of indoor gaming dens. The more gaming dens and pubs they went to, the more they gave themselves the opportunity to breathe in the salubrious mountain-air while they were enroute from one to another. Even playing video games inside closed rooms becomes a healthful activity at such a place. There is no way they would get this healthful exposure in the city in between dens.   

We went on a walk / trek to the peak of the highest hill in town, which, I understand, in vertical height, is a modest 400 metres up from level at which most of the inhabited town exists. No Everest for the seasoned climber, but challenging enough for me.

As we made our way on foot to this peak, it was, again, a refreshing sight to see scores of people going up the hill and sweating. Their cars I mean. The cars made complaining sounds while battling against gravity on the narrow mountain roads. But the fearless drivers spared no exertion in shifting to the lowest gear and pushing their cars forward against the debilitating pull of gravity.

We were at the peak for over fifteen minutes. During this period, several groups of people came up, in cars and occasionally on motorbikes. They would, unfailingly, be awed by the mountain vistas visible, click pictures, picnic on bags of potato chips and soft-drinks, and start to go back, within about three minutes of arrival. I need to learn this sense of purpose.

Who knows, they may be in a hurry to drive back to their hotel and spend some quality time on the machines in the gym in order to stay fit. Unlike us who first wasted time and effort in walking up a motorable hill, and then loitered around for all of fifteen minutes.

Or they could be in a hurry to get back in time for their daily dose of various pills to contain and push back the advancement of diseases like blood-sugar, hypertension and heart-related ailments, caused by a sedentary lifestyle and inadequate physical exertion. If this is indeed the case, their discipline needs to be lauded.

We got an opportunity to commune with nature. And observe and mingle with different kinds of creatures inhabiting that world. From inside the comfort of our car. The outside world looks so pretty viewed from the insides of a temperature controlled car!

But before you again jump to conclusions (I use “again” as I assume you did (jump to conclusions) on the earlier occasion), I must clarify that, as always, we had stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of a stroll around town. On foot. Yes you read right. We stepped out of the hotel with the noble intention of taking a stroll around town on foot. We even stepped out of the hotel premises on foot as the first step.

As happens on many occasions, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. As soon as we got out of the hotel and into a shaded path covered by trees, we were waylaid. By a bunch of monkeys. When I say waylaid I mean they were doing their usual stuff; swinging around from branch to branch, foraging for food, making noises, and all of that stuff, from at least fifty feet away. Now, for a city dweller, who has had as close an encounter with a monkey only from the other side of a cage wall, this was like being waylaid.

But the monkeys, I am sure, had not bargained for our sense of purpose and commitment. We hurried back inside the hotel and emerged, within a few minutes, inside our car. It was a really peaceful communion with nature. If nature was testing our mettle I am sure it had got its answer.

The locals will never understand this pleasure. We saw the locals walk past the monkeys as if they did not exist. They do not have a hope of experiencing nature from inside a car.

As city-dwellers, we don’t give up a good thing easily. We continued our stroll around town. Inside the comfort of our car. Try it, if you haven’t. It causes much lesser strain on the body.

They (the locals) also still need to walk across the street to cross it. They haven’t cottoned on to the idea of hopping into a car to cross the street. Or riding on a cycle-rickshaw manually pulled by a person twice their age.

They have a long way to go before they can catch-up with city folks in terms of development.