It was already mid January. But the woolens were still inside the wardrobes. I was aching to show off my collection of shawls and sweaters, while Bhopal was eager to experience the cold wave. A city of moderate temperatures and mild tempers, winter, in Bhopal, stretched from November to February, with temperatures hovering at around 7-8 degree Celsius. Whatever the season, the temperature range never crossed the comfortable zone in the city.
“Summers are getting hotter, rains diminishing, winters nowhere in sight! What is the world coming to?” My elderly landlord, who had seen the best of Bhopal, would exclaim sometimes.
2004 was different. Summer temperatures crossed a sizzling 46 degrees- a rare incidence in the city. But, leaving Bhopal in the fray, my elderly landlord preferred to empathize with the Europeans, especially the French.
“At least we Indians know what summers are like. Think of them. Poor Europeans! Reeling under the heat like never before!! So many of them have perished this year!”
Rains used to be good in Bhopal, ensuring a beautiful green cover to the city. But, the real rainy days were gradually shrinking over the years. Even during July of 2004, rains were nowhere in sight, adding to the unease of the city. Local dailies carried statistics of late rains in the past. Some screamed ‘Drought’. The Big Lake, which had already seen a car rally upon its parched stratum the year before, was fast racing towards its bottom, raising people’s concern and anxiety. Poojas were organized to appease the rain god. Some blamed ‘Adhikmaas’- an extra month as per the Hindu calendar- for the present adversities.
“Bhadbada gates may not open this time also,” mused my landlord.
During the rains, the opening of the gates of the Bhadbada Dam was eagerly awaited. It was a layman’s measure of grading the rainfall. My first year in Bhopal, I was privileged to watch water gushing out of its sluices, under a stiff rain. But ever since, Bhadbada gates remained the butt of widespread speculations, while Bhopal waited for its scenic fall.
Came November. People began their preparations. Quilts were drawn out into the sun, blankets from their covers. How to take care of your skin, what precautions to take during winter, such features in the newspapers set the scene for the coming season. In the market, appearance, all the year round, of cauliflower or cabbage, long known as winter vegetables, had ceased to awe the Bhopalites. Science had come of age, they claimed in support of such eventualities. What marked winter for them was a dip in mercury and the cold wave. Rest was technology. However, the temperatures showed no signs of waning. Bhopalites were losing their patience.
“Little surprise if we have no winter at all this year!” Such grudges became rampant.
Then, it snowed! Both in the higher reaches of the Himalayas and the UAE!
“UAE! Dubai!! But that’s a hot desert. Never heard anything like this in my life!” Present weather patterns amazed my landlord. He attributed all these changes to ‘Pralaya ’- the ultimate devastation, which, according to him, was just round the corner. Greenhouse effect, global warming- the terms were scientific mumbo-jumbo for him, seasoned as he was amidst the overwhelming influence of the Hindu mythology.
Finally, on 26th December, a wave of devastation wrecked everyone all over the world. Physically and emotionally. Bhopal was benumbed. For once, not by the cold wave, but the Tsunami toll. First of the firsts in India, a hitherto alien word suddenly assumed a ferocity, not known before. Forbidden by Geography and History, anywhere near the Indian coastline, Tsunami became a force to reckon with, overnight. A chilling reminder of the superiority of nature over the snooty humans.
Even after the Tsunami surge ebbed, the schizophrenia remained. Although, the cold wave in Bhopal was still at bay.
“The world would soon come to an end”, Bhopalites prophesied. They believed that the days of the earth as a living planet were numbered, what with such eventualities as grass growing in Antarctica, and the climatic shifts. They could not be wronged either. Geography books had always preached that Antarctica was a cold desert, that even grass could not grow there because of its ecology. But the grassroots reality was proving otherwise. The ‘used to’ phrase now appeared more relevant than what every new day unraveled. Their dormant fears in the unknown had come to the fore. Doubts that they nursed in their subconscious, while applauding the various feats of man vis-à-vis nature, made them unsure of themselves. Tinkering with the natural inheritance spelt doom, in any case, they feared.
Tsunami had shattered them completely. So had the snow in UAE, or the grass in Antarctica. Also, why was winter not showing its colours? This was one question that everyone feared to answer. The predicament showed upon the faces. They believed they had no answer to the ways of the supernatural, the mighty power some designated as GOD. The authority that no science could assail, no technology managed to overcome. Till date, at least. Tsunami had trampled upon their faith in technology and science. In man’s competence altogether. “We are in danger. World was never such a dangerous place to live in. We may have a cold wave in June in the coming years!” My elderly landlord restlessly folded the newspaper. No one dared to challenge his chilling forecast. Not after Tsunami, at least.