lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hot and bothered

There is a poem I am very fond of quoting:

As a rule, Man is a fool.
When it is hot he wants it cool;
When it is cool he wants it hot,
Always wanting what is not.

Everybody I know is complaining about the heat. Being housebound, I am not sure how hot it really is, though.

We all have our rituals and tricks to keep cool, and it is not always turning the air-conditioners on. At home, we shut windows and draw curtains closed before the day begins to heat up. This darkening helps. By the time we open things up late afternoon, there is already a breeze and things seem bearable. Also, we happen to live on the edge of the Lake. The green cover and the fact that we aren't boxed in by high-rises around us help, too. And the result is that I have no idea how hot it really is outside.

I began taking note of the weather and daily temperature in Delhi. The first winter saw a ritual evolving, reading the weather report, and the 'daily dose of horror' at how low the mercury can dip. Of course, the first summer saw me getting aghast at how high the mercury can rise, too.

Now Calcutta isn't as bad, we have the sea breeze, which Delhi hasn't heard of, and the nor'westers are more cooling than the dust storms of Delhi. But in recent years, I have noticed hot and dry winds blowing here too, and it seems like the temperatures are rising each summer.

But I discovered via this Telegraph report that the temperature readings I follow each day are not quite the gospel truth I thought they were. Those figures represent 'air temperature', a reading taken from a thermometer housed in a Stevenson screen, as unreal as it can get. This ignores earth's low-level radiation, ambient temperature that rises or falls depending on many factors. It is apparently, the 'real' temperature.

For a person waiting in a traffic jam at midday in summer, the heat produced by the high-rises, vehicles, and air-conditioners in offices, homes and shopping complexes all adds up and makes for a very 'real' hot day. Most major thoroughfares have scant tree cover to provide any relief, thanks to KMC's brainless lopping off of branches that might cast shade on the streets. Urban heat islands is a very descriptive phrase, and the effect can be felt as one moves from the business districts to leafy residential areas.

But since all that is ignored, if the papers say the maximum temperature was some thirty-eight degrees Centigrade, we have to add a good three or four degrees to it to arrive at the 'real' temperature in the city. Good grief!

Alipore Meteorological Office happens to be on grounds with abundant tree cover and the Stevenson screen is hardly the right place to measure how hot it seems to real people in the city. Why can't they take readings from five or six different points in the city and tell us how hot the day really was?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is funny how where you live forms your habits. I started paying attention to weather forecasts only after the first windy day of my first winter in NJ - Learnt all about wind chill factors & that gold ear/nose rings are not the best things to wear against your skin.

10:23 pm  
Blogger Vivek Kedia said...

there is one big display board on the chingrighata fly over( Bye Pass ) which shows the temprature to the vehicles passing underneath it, it was showing 54C and 89% humidity.... few days back, and it was really hot that day and the newspaper showed 38-39C the next day............

so adding just 3-4C is not right, I thank God that I work indoors in this heat...... people are dying in this heat, one traffic constable died due to sun stroke .....

The heat and humidity is so cruel ......

11:42 am  
Blogger Chenthil said...

Advantage of living in Chennai, you never bother about weather. It is always the same 30-40. Chennai Met dept records at two places Meenambakkam and Nungambakkam.

6:33 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Tivi- I think we start noticing weather only once we leave the place we grew up in. We compare, and marvel or get horrified. I certainly considered going back to Madras, I know.

Vivek-The heat and humidity is so cruel ......

You are right. Reading about that traffic constable was awful.

Chenthil- Surely Madras has sprawled so much that both these observatories are within urban areas? In Calcutta, another reading is taken at Dum Dum, but not considered by the Met. Office as it falls under the 24 Paraganas district. :-)

2:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Lalita,
My name is Nidadavolu Malathi. I had the pleasure of meeting you, your mother and father very long time ago.
I need a favor from you. I am writing an article on your father's extraordinary contribution to Telugu literature. i would like your input. If it is okay with you, let me know. My id is
You may also find my review of Arudra kathalu in Telugu at

btw, I am writing here since I am not sure of your personal id :). You can delete it in moderation.

6:05 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Malathi garu- But of course I remember meeting you all those years ago. what a blast from the past, I say!

My contribution to any scholarly articles about my father would be pitifully meagre, I am afraid. I will write further elucidation, but I am totally out of touch with Telugu literature, contemporary or otherwise.

My mail address is lalitam [@]gmail[dot]com.

8:55 pm  
Blogger Sivaram Pothukuchi said...

It is an interesting comment - "Being housebound, I donot know how hot it really is."

Really it is as hot as you feel, isn't it ?

Or is there a reality outside oneself ? What would Immanuel Kant say ?

5:33 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- Sigh. That was a poorly written sentence. I should have added the phrase 'out of doors' to it.

Basically, I don't know how hot or cool I am, either, as my system plays havoc.

If Immanuel Kant, how can Missus Em?

9:58 pm  
Blogger Sivaram Pothukuchi said...

I will, in that case, wish for Missus Em, to build a comfortable reality around herself which is 'just right' for her; and not to be disturbed by Berkelean Idealism or Cartesian Dualism.

May Confusician confusion prevail !

2:01 pm  
Blogger aandthirtyeights said...

Ah, the joys of the Bangalore summer!

6:23 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- I think (;therefore) I quit. :-)

Aandthirtyeights- Oi. Are you claiming Bangalore summers are more harrowing than Calcutta summers?

5:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now Calcutta isn't as bad, we have the sea breeze-

can you please tell me where calcutta's beachside is located?or is the ganga and hoogly called a sea these days?

10:30 am  
Blogger Sivaram Pothukuchi said...

Since when is QUIT an option ?
Anyhow, I will now wait for your next post .......

2:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you're right..Calcutta really KILLS you. I think it has the most unbearable weather in the world..I keep looking at the crowds on the road and wondering how come they don't tear their hair out..because that's what I feel like doing!

4:25 pm  
Blogger NN said...

oh shit! i can't believe u quoted this poem! I've been quoting it to right and left, to nina and raveena ever since 3rd standard. We must be soul mates or something :D

tell me u read it in the science textbook and memorized it forever !!!

2:18 am  
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