A woman waits to fill her vessels with drinking water from a tanker, amid a water crisis (Picture: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Blooms withering off trees and trailing down the streets was the first sign that this wasn’t going to be a typical April in my city of Bangalore, India.
Summer made its presence felt earlier than usual on April 29, with temperatures climbing to 35.2 degrees Celsius – later reported to be the hottest day of the year in the city.
For those working from home, like me, sidestepping this heat is easy to avoid – in fact, it’s a privilege.
To be fair, 35 degrees in Bangalore seems minor compared to the scorching heat up North, particularly in regions such as Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh that are recording alarming temperatures between the 43-47 degree bracket.
And, just earlier this month, in parts of Delhi, temperatures reached a record 49.2 degrees – the capital’s fifth heatwave since March.
Let that sink in. In parts of India, it’s up to 49 degrees right now – in Spring. And it’s only going to get hotter.
It’s hardly a surprise, though, as my country’s heatwaves followed the hottest March India has seen since records began 122 years ago – with Pakistan experiencing its hottest April on record, too.
A woman puts water on her face to get relief from extreme heat during hot weather (Picture: Debajyoti Chakraborty/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
My grandparents live in a small but historic town in Rajasthan called Chittorgarh, where post 10am the sun is already high up in the sky, sending intense bouts of hot air towards anyone who musters up the courage to step out.
Power cuts are frequent throughout the day because of the heat, and when electricity comes back is anyone’s guess. My grandmum tells me over the phone about how she completes all the household chores early morning – grocery shopping, watering the plants and going for a walk – because that’s the only window of opportunity before the sun sets to get out without succumbing to the heat.
I’m constantly reminding them to stay hydrated and take their medicines on time, worrying about their health, however the truth is that my grandparents can afford to spend their days indoors, cooling off in the presence of an air-con when the power comes back, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for most of India’s population.
A man walking on the cracked saltpan land scorched by heat waves at Kanjurmarg (Picture: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Growing up in Gurgaon, Haryana, as a pre-adolescent, I remember summer vacations often getting extended thanks to how hot it was. Back then, I was too naïve to think of this as anything other than a blessing.
Even when school resumed, we’d never have sports classes or go out to play in the field past 11am because heat-strokes are no joke. Now, it’s getting worse and not just in places where one would expect it to be.
When I first moved to Bangalore in 2011, its pleasant weather stood in complete contrast to Gurgaon’s erratic dust and hail storms that I’d become all too familiar with growing up. It neither gets too hot or too cold here, or at least that’s how it used to be.
Over the last decade, this once tranquil city has got temperamental with its weather and the current record-breaking heatwaves intermingled with erratic evening showers are proof.
People take rest under a bridge on a hot summer day in New Delhi (Picture: Amarjeet Kumar Singh/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
These changes are alarming, to say the least, but the fear subsides with the change of seasons and before we know it, summer is over and the monsoon sets in to cool things down. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Bangalore’s citizens have adapted over the years, but for how much longer?
As briefly depicted in Western media, the situation is a lot more dire in villages and rural areas in India, where a shortage of electricity adversely impacts the availability of water for irrigation and agricultural purposes.
The brunt of these sweltering heatwaves across India and Pakistan is being borne by those who don’t have the luxury of working from home or from the comfort of an air-conditioned office.
Most of India’s 1.4billion people in rural areas live without any access to air-con (Picture: Indranil Aditya/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
It’s India’s farmers, construction workers, daily wagers, street hawkers, families living in remote regions, stray animals and the underprivileged communities toiling outdoors to earn their livelihood that are suffering.
Most of India’s 1.4billion people in rural areas live without any access to air-con or cooling stations – and it’s those that I worry for the most.
I’ve read stories about people gasping for breath in the shade, and it won’t be too long before we read about raging fires or fatalities.
In fact, according to new information from the UK’s Met Office, India and Pakistan’s recent blistering heatwaves were made over a 100 times more likely because of human-caused climate change.
Reports are suggesting that high temperatures like we’ve just seen could now occur every three years – where before, they were thought to occur every 300 years.
Madhya Pradesh that are recording alarming temperatures between the 43-47 degree bracket (Picture: Getty)
By the end of the century, reports even state that these high temperatures could occur every single year.
Except, even now, the Western media often romanticises Indian summers – I’ve seen one too many magazine spreads featuring models frolicking on houseboats in Kerala, grabbing a drink from the streets on what seems to be a peak summer afternoon, gazing at coconut trees or walking through paddy fields.
The reality, however, is blistering heat causing death, starvation due to food shortage, a strained economy and an irreversible environmental impact.
At the moment, multiple states in India are scrambling for additional coal as the existing reserves struggle to keep up with the increased demand.
Surges in powering air-con units have triggered India’s worst-seen power crisis in years – with summer only just visible on the horizon.
Blooms withering off trees and trailing down the streets was the first sign that this wasn’t going to be a typical April in my city of Bangalore (Picture: Vijay Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
This just goes to show how far we are from reducing our over-dependence on non-renewable sources of energy such as coal. Climate change hasn’t arrived now. It has been in the making since I was 11, and wasn’t allowed to step out after morning class to play basketball for my own safety.
And it’s still here as a 23-year-old when I desperately switch on the air-con at the end of March, far too soon and for far too long.
A heatwave in India is by no means an isolated event, and I hope these stories go beyond the border because climate change affects us all. This shouldn’t be just another headline that gets swept away in the newscycle, but a cause of concern that needs immediate attention – both at home and abroad.
Thankfully, it has begun to rain in North India, with thunderstorms brooding, cooling down our cities and rural areas – but how long will it be before the ground dries up once again, and the high temperatures come back thicker and hotter? Parching our lands, our food and our people?
Today countries in South Asia are burning up, and the weather in India will continue to break records, but tomorrow it can affect a place on the other side of the world. Your side of the world.
Either way, we all need to listen, demand action and take action ourselves because the climate crisis is going nowhere.
If we don’t implement real, hard change, the next Indian summer could be one of our last.
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