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      Volume 11 |Issue 24| June 15, 2012 |


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Ugh...the Heat!

Aly Zaker

Temperatures in Dhaka reached 41ºC in the early 60s. Photo: Star File

The heat this summer has got the better of us. Over the last two months, or a little over, that I have been away from this page, I have been talking or listening to my friends about how unbearable the heat has been. History says that in the early 60s the heat in Dhaka was recorded at 410C and above. In the mid 70s the mercury had touched 400C so on and so forth. Come what may, heat has really got us this time. My friend Nirmalendu Goon, the famous poet, phoned me one afternoon and reprimanded me from the city streets of Dhaka with the question, "why isn't there any breeze in the open places of the city?" I thought he was going to give me some path-breaking scientific information on this subject and asked him why. He answered, with a lot of anger in his voice, “because, you guys have put all the wind of nature in the tires of your cars and buses”. He was so convincing that I could not even laugh and kept quiet for a few seconds. He was amused and laughed out loud. He said that he was not joking. Regardless of where all the breeze has gone, he felt that he was convinced, the heat of Dhaka was increased a few fold by the fumes of vehicles running on petroleum products.

This got me wondering. What is the reason behind Dhaka being so unbearable this summer compared to even four to five decades back? I grew up in Dhaka from the age of ten. At our home in a one storey building in Ganderia we had just one ceiling fan in my parents' room. We all slept, usually under a mosquito net, in the company of a hand-fan. My eldest sister tried to blow away the heat with violent movements of her hand, revolving the fan with gusto for as long as we did not succumb to the onslaught of sleep that was ever so pervasive in that tender age. I woke up very early in the morning and discovered that I was comfortably lying in bed with the temperature receding by a few degrees to make us feel comfortable.

Photo: Star File

This, I dare say, does not happen in Dhaka anymore. Heat seems to hang in there, day or night. Those who are not lucky to have an air conditioner, have to sweat it out even under a ceiling fan. A friend of mine, an architect, was telling me the other day that there are four or five 'hot pits' in our city now. These are those areas where high-rise buildings have been built in an unplanned manner. There the heat generated during the day gets stuck for the night and is made more potent by more heat generated the following day by the merciless sun. And these areas, belonging to the upper class of the society, generate greater heat from the reverse thrust of the air conditioners. Therefore, during the day and at night we have no respite.

Heat generated during the day stays trapped between high-rise buildings at night.
Photo: Amirul Rajiv

I personally do not mind the heat of the Bangladeshi summer in the village so much. Whenever I visit my village in the summer, I arrive there with a changed mindset. I know that without air conditioning, or even fans, it is going to be hot there. Therefore, I try to re-live my childhood experience by winding back the long hand of time to few decades ago. Believe me, I don't feel so bad. In fact, a couple of days ago, I decided to go to a village close by for a first-hand experience. I had earlier gone to speak in a seminar in one of the five-star hotels which was centrally air conditioned. When I started from the hotel, the temperature metre of my car showed Dhaka was groaning under the heat of 370C. This did not deter me from my determination of going out to this village in Gazipur. By the time I arrived in Gazipur, the heat had simmered down to a not-so-unbearable 320C. When I alighted from the car, walked across a green patch of grass, and sat down under a Kamini tree, it took me a few seconds to realise that even on a hot day like this there was some gentle wind blowing from the south. I was reasonably comfortable until one of the people there decided to bring the pedestal fan beside me and switch it on. The fan, far from giving me comfort, was blowing hot air towards me. I immediately realised that this force-feed would be counter-productive. In fact, what the fan did, was to blow away the gentle cool breeze and bring in hot air hanging in the atmosphere behind its back. I realised how the people in our villages and small towns managed to live in this heat, while we, the city-dwellers, became so restless and, consequently, restive. Just about a couple of generations ago, 'all of us' were 'them' and not 'us'. The divide between 'us' and 'them' is becoming ever so pronounced and the gap so very unbridgeable.

I guess this is the price of unplanned urbanisation that we have to pay for and not complain about. Our problem is that we want desperately to live in the capital city, devour all its cream, scream aloud if it is unable to give us the comfort we want, yet not be ready to pay for it if we have to.

PS: Forgive my English full of bloomers readers. The heat has got the better of me!


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