Musings by Shekhar Nambiar
Much has been said about life in India during the Raj. There have been books, books and more books. Many are histories, some biographies, and still others are fictional accounts.
The Indian summer has had its share of story tellers too. As the English rulers sweated it out during the summer months with koi hain calls to their minions, they were kept cool with whirling electric fans and before that by hand pulled pankahs. The windows of bungalows were protected from the sun’s harsh glare by water-sprinkled khus screens. The Indian performed the arduous task diligently and loyally at the expense of exposing himself to long hours in the scorching summer sun.
Now Britons are trying to beat boiling temperatures in their own land in what is most likely unbearable heat that is sweeping nearly every part of Europe, and Northern Europe – Sweden and other Nordic countries. Indeed, the wheel has turned full circle!
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The heat can be attributed to freak weather conditions, but it is more likely the effect of climate change. There’s scarcely a region in the world that is not affected by one form of change in climate or other.
Drought or downpour
Look at India. So many places are receiving little or scanty rainfall. The dry spells can be long and prolonged, giving rise to water scarcity and drought-like conditions, and putting farmers to difficulty. Or equally, the unseasonal and excessive rainfall leading to floods and untold misery.
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It doesn’t take much to figure out that we are paying the price for the unsustainable ways of the West and their unmistakable carbon footprint on earth. At least this is majorly responsible, if not all, for our travails. With further collateral damage expected from extreme conditions, including avalanches and melting ice in the Alps and elsewhere, governments will necessarily have to heed the call for action to drastically cut emissions.
It’s not as if India never had extreme climate. The summer months have always witnessed severe heat conditions. But rainforests, at least until their denudation, did help to ensure enough rain to top up river catchments and the irrigation systems annually or every six months depending on the region.
Hill stations offer relief
The notable exceptions to extreme heat were the mountain tops where the English built themselves comfortable hill stations. These salubrious places offered relief, even at the cost of much expenditure to the establishment to move men, families and offices to run the administration. The capital of British India moved to Simla or Shimla in the Shivalik Hills – in the Himalayan foothills – during the summer months and moved back to New Delhi’s Raisina Hill for the winter. Coming to the present time, English footballers are playing matches all over, including in Asia, Australia and America. The new season of the English Premier League doesn’t start until August. So that is a big relief! But for the just concluded Wimbledon championships, players had to rough it out in high temperatures of 29 degrees Celsius or more in London but nothing compared to temperatures now hovering around 41 degrees Celsius in several parts of Europe.
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Speaking of climate and weather, and to drive home the point of mindless and destructive development, I can’t help but recall a visit to Bangalore in June of 1977. It was blissful! So cool was it in the high-ceilinged military barracks facing the parade ground on MG Road that I’d to use the blanket at night. Since then, on my numerous visits to the city, I have never felt the same, in spite of the evening rains or the city’s relative cool climes.
Look at the unsustainable development in the city in the last 25 years. The old MG Road and Brigade Road are not what they used to be. At its Cubbon Park end, MG Road today has a business district of glass covered air-conditioned high rises. You can imagine the negative impact these developments will have had on the environment. In further damage, old and heritage buildings in the area will have also been razed to the ground.
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Closer to the Race Course there are remnants of the old charm. But the walks around these parts, including the path leading to the golf course, are no longer that easy. Sankey Tank or lake and Chowdiah Memorial Hall that has played host to many a musical concert, both in Malleswaram, are intact and so too the old campus of the Indian Institute of Science. But that’s about it.
Moving airport to Devanahalli
What has also changed drastically, as far as I can tell, are Yelahanka and the new development on both sides of the Tumakuru (old Tumkur) highway, leading up to the swank Kempegowda International Airport, and beyond. The distance and time to Kempegowda at Devanahalli make you wonder if the move away from the old and historic HAL airport at Domlur was at all necessary. The spurt in motor vehicles, the massive snarls and pile ups, and the boom in the aviation sector, as evidenced by the rise in commercialflights, all justify the new airport though. An important issue, but overlooked, is the telltale effect of the soaring air traffic on our environment. Votaries of the aviation industry are naturally overlooking the carbon footprint on the atmosphere and have set all concerns aside.
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Until around 1986 or 1990, Bangalore was a comfortable city, easy paced and relaxed. The joke is told of a young man, despite seeing his bus approach, continued to be comfortably seated making no effort to board it, preferring to wait for the next bus. Perhaps the Bangalore weather makes you easy- going, even lethargic sometimes. But that was when things were different. The garden city transformed itself in the late 1990s with massive infrastructure projects to accommodate the influx of IT companies. It is paradoxical that the city’s woes began to peak since then.
The ring road circling the city and NICE – the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Road, also called Bengaluru–Mysuru Infrastructure Corridor, near the Electronic City, are, no doubt, helping to ease the congestion and directing the traffic flow in and out of the inner limits as also linking the Hosur-Chennai and Hosur-Coimbatore-Kochi expressways.
Namma Metro, Bangalore’s and the country’s pride, is a quick and easy mode of travel. I marvel at the super-efficient manner in which I was able to travel underground from the Vidana Soudha – although a short hop – to MG Road. Just goes to prove why making the Metro a habit is the best bet to be able to beat the traffic and save money, energy and time. But to make the Metro super-efficient in our cities the last-mile connectivity must improve.