Portraits Of Heat

Everyday objects hold in themselves a multitude of stories, each telling of the climate change exasperated divide between the haves and have-nots of the world.

Illustration: Saahil
Photo: Illustration: Saahil

There’s a boy. The boy has no legs. He pushes his wheelchair in the molten heat. As the sun punishes us for our industrial sins the boy moves his wheelchair - a product of those industrial sins - towards a kiryana store. Life is cruel, but the boy has a smile on his face. He picks up a small clay pot and empties it. A few drops of water hit the pavement and evaporate immediately. He gesticulates to the shopkeeper who brings a packet of milk. The boy hands him a grimy, sweaty 10 rupee note. The wheelchair rolls, the tyre leaving a black rubber trail on the concrete.

‘Come here Kaalu,’ the boy says.

A street dog with a black fur coat staggers to him, stunned by the heat. The boy in the wheelchair bites into the cool packet and rips out a triangular section. The milk pours into the claypot. Nectar. An oblation to the brutal sun god. Kaalu bends his neck greedily and starts lapping up the milk. I go to the boy and we talk about the unrelenting heat. He talks about it only with respect to the animals around us. As if the heat does not bother him.

‘The birds are dropping dead like flies,’ he says matter-of-factly.

Kaalu is joined by a few other street dogs. All of them shaggy, bewildered; all of them moving like a zombie horde towards the clay pot. Slurrp, slurrp, slurrp. The milk is over in a jiffy.

The boy touches the hot steel rims of his wheelchair and starts to push away. The dogs follow him for a bit out of loyalty, out of desire for another packet. But then, one by one, they retire into the shade. And the boy keeps rolling on.

Photo: Illustration: Saahil

The doorbell rings. My eyes go to the clock. Noon. Mid-day. The hour of hell.

Who could be outside in this devastating heat. I open the door gingerly. It’s the gas man. Sweat pours down his face. He’s wearing a red uniform with a logo which proudly proclaims Hindustan Petroleum. The shirt is full-sleeved. The trousers are full length. The cloth is thick. There are white islands of salt all over his chest, back and armpits. Sweat has evaporated and left the residue behind.

He notices my gaze.

‘It’s the winter uniform,’ he says.

‘Haven’t they given you anything for summer?’

He shrugs his shoulders.

The stocks of oil and gas companies rise. But they cannot invest in a little cotton.

They use the nation’s name as branding, but care little for the citizens they employ.

I try to pick the cylinder and immediately keep it down. It scalds my hands. The gas man offers his help. With callused hands he picks the cylinder up and takes it inside. Into the shade. Into the deep coolness of the home. He pauses under a fan and rests there. My airy 130 GSM cotton shirt flutters. His clothes cling to his body like lead.


He nods.

I get him a glass of cool water. We stand there and talk about the merciless heat.

I am acutely aware that I will talk about the heat and then remain in the shade. He will talk about the heat and then go out into the brutal sun.

Photo: Illustration: Saahil

Her hair is like dry grass. Ready kindling. All it needs is a little spark. In her hands she wields the iron. A metal box filled with coal ripped out from the earth’s bowels to crease the trousers of man. The little shed she works in is another metal box.

Tin sheets and tarpaulin on top. Cardboards and blankets on the sides. In this inception of metal boxes, she folds and irons mountains of clothes, and she burns. The ancient, blue fan is useless. It whirrs and hums only to channel the loo and blast it at her.

She scatters a few drops of water on a chic blazer. The heavy iron comes down upon it like a giant ship and annihilates the wrinkles. A sizzling sound rises up like a prayer. She imagines herself in the blazer, in an arctic room where men and women bow in front of her and her armour. Where air-conditioners hum silently and heat is banished outside a glass facade.

Her husband comes in and removes his shirt. He hangs it on a bent nail. She hands the iron to him. She is envious. She too would like to rip away her clothes and work with freedom. Her shalwar kameez sticks to her skin. She hates clothes.

(Views expressed are personal)

(This is 'Portraits Of Heat')

Karan Mujoo is a Gurgaon-based writer