He awoke suddenly. The heat that had lulled him as he had lain – his head and torso on the mattress on the floor in the living room and his legs on the floor itself, trying to extract every last degree of coolness – now awoke him rudely. With a start, he realised that the late afternoon sunlight had extended its reach through his west-facing balcony doors and now oozed greedily across the floor, like quicksand, devouring painfully slowly with its heat anything that lay in its path. His legs, indeed his entire body, seemed to be caught in the midst of a raging forest fire. He looked up desultorily at the stationary fans on his ceiling. The power had made its absence felt all day.
He quickly got up and shut the balcony door. Almost immediately, he felt the toll the burning heat had had on his body while he had slept in its very cradle. His stomach threw itself around and his head pounded like the jackhammer he imagined he was hearing. He needed to get out of that oven he called his house and into an air-conditioned coffee shop.
To steady himself first, he made a cup of tea. Then, he changed quickly, packed his bag with some work and a book, and left perspiring. The sweat on his body began to cool palpably as soon as he stepped out of the sauna. The auto ride was comfortable and the coffee shop felt cool, in stark contrast to the freezing cold it usually is – a testament to the blazing heat outside.
He still felt wobbly as he drank his coffee. His head continued to swim and he felt trapped in that strange land that just preceded throwing up, unable to return to the land of feeling fine.
Unable to work and desperate to divert his attention, he pulled out his book and began to read. And suddenly, out of nowhere, he was reminded of the conversation he had witnessed in the neighbourhood shop that early afternoon. He had popped in to buy some eggs and bread, but instead had to wait while the young twenty-something guy with styled hair behind the counter was engaged in a very serious conversation about the heat with a frail man hunched over with age.
“You show me a paper and we’ll see what the temperature is,” exclaimed the old man from under his cap.
“In my village in Rajasthan, where I come from, the temperature goes up to 70,” proudly stated the clean-shaven youngster.
“How can you say that? Show me a paper,” argued the old man, not realising that a newspaper in Pune would, in all probability, not carry the temperature of that particular village in Rajasthan that was well over 500 km to the north.
“In your experience, how much do you think it is here?” asked the boy, deftly side-stepping the challenge.
“Oh, 50, not more” said the other, his estimate coated with the mixed, muffled accent that comes with a small-town English education, living in the cantonment area of a bigger city and vocal cords that have done more than their fair share of work; it reminded him of his uncle who drank too much.
As he sat in air-conditioned comfort, sipping his coffee, poised to read a book, lightly remembering this conversation he had heard that was like no other, and his body still in turmoil, it slowly dawned on him that he was probably experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke.