Heat and Dust of Delhi

By Dinesh Wagle

In a terrible afternoon last week, as I was walking on a parched street and struggling with the heat wave, I realized something. Heat in Delhi comes as a curfew. Very few people were on the street that would otherwise be packed in normal circumstances. The street, I observed, remained vacated for about four hours in the afternoon beginning from around 12. People often get dehydrated and, in some extreme cases, die because of heat wave. So what do you do? The heat imposed curfew-like situation means you will have to stay indoors consuming energy via air conditioners and coolers. But that’s only when there is no loadshedding in your area.

The rising temperature throughout India came as a challenge to its democracy too. Reports from various parts of the country suggested that voter turnout at the elections has been very low as people didn’t get out of their homes because of the intense heat. Some towns have already recorded as much as 47 degrees celsius. Not even half of Mumbai turned to polling stations on Thursday in an election held under the shadow of the Nov. 26 terrorist attacks. But the Election Day in Mumbai wasn’t that hot (only around 35C). So the media quickly blasted the city for being indifferent to the democratic process. “All talk, no vote,” said one headline the next day. “Despite 26/11, candle-light vigils and voter campaigns, Mumbai stays home.”
“Temperature rose to 43 but voter turnout went below 44,” said a reporter from another city on a TV channel.

There was no election in Delhi but Wednesday came as the hottest April day in 50 years. On that very day I got the real taste of Delhi heat. It was 1 PM and I had to go to a nearby motor workshop. A five-minute walk in normal circumstances but as I said earlier it was a curfew-like, abnormal situation. My iPhone told me it was 43 at that moment. Soon after that it had peaked at 43.5 breaking the 50-year-old record. But I didn’t need anyone to tell me about the heat. I could feel it. As the cycle-rickshaw moved towards the auto workshop the hot air hit right on my cheeks and eyelids (that’s where I felt the hot blow). That was the heat wave, I assumed. I had never experienced the heat wave before. I could only feel pity for the rickshaw puller as he struggled hard against the power of the Sun. As I got out of the rickshaw I was completely disoriented. At one point it was difficult to open my eyes. But I am sure the worst is yet to come.

“There will be no relief from the heat in the next few days as there is no thundershower activity and dry winds from the deserts are blowing into the city,” a weatherman told the Hindu newspaper.

Many home windows are covered with shades that keep the sunlight away and give residents some respite in the scorching heat. But they are not enough. Cities like Delhi consume staggering amount of power during summers. On Sunday, not the hottest day in April certainly, Delhi was consuming 3168 mega watt at the peak. And loadshedding at the peak hour was 166 MW, according to a local newspaper.

Yes, loadshedding. That has undoubtedly become one of Nepal’s identities but I have rarely experienced it in Delhi where I live in a relatively better neighborhood. But that doesn’t mean there is no loadshedding in Delhi. Sometime, in some localities, power outage lasts for as many as 5 hours. There was almost an hour of outage in my neighborhood some days ago and it is expected to be repeated. There is huge demand of power and I, the proud citizen of the country that still boasts of itself as the potential source of 83 thousands megawatts of electricity, feel Nepal can exploit that market. But alas, what is happening in Nepal itself? Did I not write about my own experience of power outage in Kathmandu last month? 16 hours? If we let the investment come into hydropower while we are currently fixing the house politically, we can realistically imagine intervening into the Indian power sector some day.

Demand is such that Indian states literally fight over electricity. They try to extract as much power as possible via the national grid. No state government wants its residents to be without it, particularly in these election times. “With the capital is still largely dependent on outside sources of power to meet the consumer demand, Delhi citizens end up suffering when other states do not abide by grid discipline and heavily overdraw,” said one newspaper recently.

While writing this, I remember how easily I had dismissed the winter which ironically was also the warmest in decades in Delhi. Many Nepalis who have lived in Delhi both seasons had been suggesting to me to prepare myself for the summers. “I have lived in Delhi during summers,” said one friend. “It’s so terrible and irritating.” I agree with the statement. The heat is utterly irritating.

I can only envy Kathmanduites who are currently enjoying the average temperature of 32, if my iPhone is not mistaken. Kathmandu’s temperature is predicted to be 31 for today (Friday) while here it will be 44! That is why I become slightly surprised when I read some Facebook status suggesting that the person is feeling so much garmi and, because of that, has a headache in Kathmandu! I almost feel like commenting on that status with these lines: Perhaps Delhi temperature will fix your headache!

[This article, written on Friday 1 May, was published on the Op-Ed page of today’s Kathmandu Post.]