Friday, February 8, 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

How can you get a sunburnt nose, and have to wear socks in bed ON THE SAME DAY? It’s a mystery only India can unlock. I thought we Brits had sole rights to preoccupation with meteorology, but the weather headlines the news here again today. Temperatures in Mumbai are the lowest recorded in over fifty years (maybe we brought it with us? I felt at the time, they should have been more thorough, checking our cabin-bags, at the airport...). Maximum temperature today, a mere 24 degrees. This would trigger firing up the barbie, and asking next-door round for a sausage in a bun, in some countries, like England, for instance. Here, though, people are wearing coats. Further north, following snowstorms in Pulwama, the whole Kashmir valley is cut off, stranding thousands of Haj pilgrims. According to Your Day Today on NDTV, essential supplies are running out, as even the emergency trucks are failing to get through. I have every sympathy, since the entire social fabric disintegrates back home, with a surprise overnight powdering of snow. In the absence of a war, it counts as adversity in the suburbs, though, and people in bus queues break their stiff-necked reserve to talk to one another, for a change.
Here, once the sun goes in, the temperature plummets. Tonight, it’s expected to reach 11 degrees, too cold to sleep on the pavement, whichever country you’re in. Driving home in the dark, we see little fires springing up every few yards, so that, by the time the daylight is completely quenched, the pavements are studded with flames. People living on the streets husband every unwanted cardboard box and packet, carefully flattening and folding them for onward sale – I can’t help but wonder what they’re finding to burn, to keep warm.
On tv and in the newspapers, the debate continues about global warming, condemned as having created this extraordinary weather. Blame, of course, is laid at the communal feet of the developed world. And yet, the roads here are so silted with traffic, it can take an hour and a half, to drive two miles across the city. There are many – from traffic police to pillion passengers - who wear protective breathing masks over their faces, since the air’s blue with fumes. There’s much to be done in this part of the world, as well as in the West, to reduce carbon emissions.
It’s common enough, on the roads of Mumbai, to see a whole family on one motorbike – small child perched astride the petrol tank in front of Dad, driving, then an even smaller child wedged between him and Mum, bringing up the rear. Not a sight for the highly-strung – or indeed, anyone who’s ever been a parent. I look away. They’re proposing to replace Every Dad’s Hero Honda with a small car, to be launched at the end of the year. What can they be thinking? Other than crippling the circulation, and embossing our carbon footprint even more securely, what can they be hoping to achieve?
The cars in Kashmir are emitting nothing, however, as the snow jams the traffic flow. NDTV shows footage of drivers whiling away their chilly wait, playing snowballs across the bonnets of their cars. No English child, though, would recognise the snowman, who also stars on this morning’s news. He's thin, with a long head, and outstretched arms made of snow, rather than the cop-out twigs we always annexe. You have to admire the engineering. No carrot-nose. No coal-buttons. Hardly a snowman at all, then, in fact.