The Beginner’s Guide to Owning Madras Heat

Gayathri Pattnam

I suffer from a city identity crisis right now – I have spent equal amounts of time in Bombay and Madras, but since Madras was where I was born and where I grew up, I will dwell on that city right now.

Anybody who has been to/heard of/lived in/taken a detour through Madras, has most definitely come across the most clichéd joke about this city – “Madras, it has three seasons – Hot, Hotter and Hottest.” As with most jokes, this one has some amount of truth in it. All of it is the truth.

It was 1998, rumored to have been amongst the hottest years in Madras. One must also remember that it was 1998 in Madras – the city had problems with electricity, and one often went through days with absolutely no respite from the heat.

It was 1998, in Madras, in the city where the sun doesn’t stop shining. I was around 7 or 8 years old back then and I lived on the third floor – in a building which had three floors and a terrace – in one little flat with four adults. Since our flat was directly beneath the terrace, you could make dosais on the floor on a nice summer day. In the summer of 1998, you could make a dosai on the floor in about half the time.

Another very important thing that one must remember – grandparents have a reasonable amount of patience and parents have none, but given how hot it was that summer, my grandparents had limited patience and my parents’ patience levels had slipped into the negative. And then, there was me.

Like a reckless idiot, I ran around at 3 in the afternoon, with the hot sun beating down upon my back and returned home a little before sunset.

Man, it was bloody hot and the sweat would not stop flowing and I was fed up of the heat and fed up of life and hated everything and I was so irritated.

I needed to be placated.  The heat was driving me insane and being the only child, I wanted loads of attention from somebody. Essentially, I wanted somebody to patiently fan me with a newspaper, while I scribbled with my wax crayons.

I complained to my grandfather about the heat. He told me that I wouldn’t feel the heat so much if I stopped running around the place like some possessed maniac.

My irritation went up a few notches.

I went to my grandmother and told her that I am feeling extremely hot and sweaty and asked her to fan me. She said she was feeling hot herself, and that I should go finish my homework.

Irritation levels went up considerably.

Then, I poked my mother constantly, till she nearly hit me with the karandi. She saw my usually cute face sulking away to glory and asked what happened. I told her that it was very hot and that I wanted something cold to drink. She told me to shut up.

That reaction made me decide that my family hated me and wanted to give me up for adoption.

So, I went to my neighbor’s (and best friend’s) house, and complained about the heat. My best friend readily agreed with me, but instead of providing us with a solution, and cold drinks, her mother told us to get lost. We came back to my house and sat on my parents’ bed and sulked.

So there we were, two little girls sitting in sweat stained chemises, cribbing about the heat, and not a single soul bothered to help us out.

The term “brainwave” was invented precisely to describe this moment. I had a brainwave. I whispered excitedly into my friend’s ear. One had to be careful. Usually brainwaves at such a young age often involve proposing an action that is either highly mischievous or highly absurd, or as in my case, both.

The term “brainwave” was invented precisely to describe this moment. I had a brainwave.

Additionally, children (me included) had learnt from experience that the suggestion or even better (or worse, as the case maybe) implementation of any intelligent idea, no matter how ingenious, would usually result in one or both parents becoming crazily angry, which ultimately would result in a dreadful punishment. Therefore, all ideas had to be whispered.

So, I spelt out my plan of action to defeat the heat to my best friend, and she listened with rapt attention and mild horror. She refused to partake in it. I told her to shut up about the heat. She was unwilling to do anything to make it better, so she had no right to complain.

Annoyed with my rudeness, she provoked me into implementing my idea. My original plan was to abandon my idea if my friend didn’t agree to participate, but the way she taunted me, my ego wouldn’t take it. I accepted her dare.

I hastily changed into my swimming costume. I even put on my swimming cap, like the good little girl that I was. The swimming costume was fluorescent yellow with Tweety Bird on it and it looked absolutely hideous, but I loved it.

I ran to the refrigerator, opened the freezer compartment, dug out all the ice from it and threw it on the floor. I emptied a few bottles of cold water on the floor, and in short, invented my very own indoor swimming pool. It was a puddle of water, but whatever.

My friend began giggling as she watched me “swim” in the pool. By swimming, I mean rolling around in the puddle and flapping my arms around everywhere.

I was thoroughly enjoying myself. All those melting ice cubes! All that cold water! I frolicked away to glory in the lovely pool that I had created. I imagined that I was a penguin in Antarctica. I imagined that I was an Olympic Swimmer. I imagined that I was an ice princess. It was my pool. My very own pool, in my very own house on the third floor of a building in hot, hot Madras.

My very own pool, in my very own house on the third floor of a building in hot, hot Madras.

Parents have a wonderful knack of detecting when their offspring is making mischief. Having heard no cranky voices or the sound of playing, my mother came rushing into the room and her eyes nearly popped out when she saw her one and only child roll around on the floor in a pathetic mess of water, and that too in a swimming costume.

My friend only had to take one look at my mother’s face. She disappeared right away, muttering about finishing homework.

My mother continued glaring at me, so I quietly changed out of my swimming costume and went and watched TV, as though nothing had happened.

I was smiling internally. I had won two things – my friend’s bet and victory over Madras heat.


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