After 20 minutes of sitting motionless and ignoring the sweat profusely pouring out of his temples in what seemed like the longest traffic jam of his life, 29-year-old Subhash Sarkar (name changed) could not take it anymore. It was 43°C outside—unusually hot for an April day in Calcutta, and Sarkar’s struggling car AC was sputtering out dust in place of cold air.
“I guess I knew my car would not fit. But it was so hot, I couldn’t just sit there anymore. I tried to squeeze my car into the gap between a bus and a bike and ended up hitting the bus,” Subhash recalls. Then he had a verbal spat with the bus driver, despite knowing it was his own fault. While Sarkar got away with minor scrapes, the incident got him thinking about his mental health. “It was like I had a panic attack, but I also felt very angry. It felt like my brain had melted,” Sarkar says, adding he has no history of mental health or anger issues. Subhash has since sought psychiatric help. In the throes of an unprecedented heatwave in India, people like Sarkar might be facing new challenges. While heat deaths are an annual reality, one look at the impact of heatwaves on mental health in India indicates the problem is not just skin deep.