Ground Reports

India Melting? How The Heatwave Is Affecting Daily Lives

Rising developmental projects and severe climate change puts the people of India, especially Delhi NCR, at risk.

By Sanjana Chawla, 30 Apr 2023

Extensive heat, limited moment.

A recent study at the University of Cambridge suggests that almost 90% of India and the whole of Delhi is facing the wrath of severe heat waves. Over the decades, there have been hundreds of incidents of heatwaves in the country, but the recent heatstroke-related deaths in Maharashtra have put all in a jolt. Costing thirteen lives in a single heatwave-related incident, it has been marked as a first in the country’s history.

Delhi and its traffic.

The Indian Meteorological Department has predicted hiked temperatures for the country’s summer this year and most parts of the country have been categorised in the “extremely cautious” or “danger zone”. Just 2 months into the new year, 2023 witnessed the hottest February since 1901 and despite some rain spells and thunderstorms, the temperature is still skyrocketing and hitting all.

In the rush to go to school.

Delhi NCR lies in the most vulnerable and critical zone and is facing the worst of all. A population overload, overcrowding in residences, slums & ghettos, lack of basic amenities, poor living conditions, and rampant construction & development projects are some factors making Delhi more prone and exposed to heatwaves.

Just like people's movement, construction in Delhi never stops.

The temperatures in Delhi blazed on March 13, 2023, and the city and its surrounding areas witnessed varying levels of heat with the scale maximising 34.1 degrees Celsius. Breaking the previous month’s record, people witnessed the warmest day of 2023 on April 9 with the temperatures peeking to a maximum of 34.8 degrees Celsius.

Yellow cloth to wipe the sweat away.

People have been trying their best to save themselves from getting embroiled in the wrath of heatstroke. While some are getting their air-conditioners operational, others are buying air or desert coolers to beat the temperature.

Hydration first.

Amid the rising heat, people have started stacking up water bottles in refrigerators to quench their thirst, while a significant amount of the population is resorting to the season’s favourite earthen pots or matkas as it naturally keeps water cool even in summer.

Machine at work.

Amid the peaking heat and the harsh rays of the sun, one can also spot several vendors selling a glass of chilled water for INR 1 and various others selling iced lemonade, Roohafza, or ganne ka ras (sugarcane juice). Hailing from Haryana, Harjit makes fresh sugarcane juice and sells it for INR 20 or 30, depending on the size.

Fresh sugarcane juice specially made for you.

He whips up a glass for a young boy and loads it with ice considering the heat. The child takes a minute to gulp it down and walks away after his father pays for the juice. Harjit says, “While the harsh heat is affecting our physical health and productivity, the only good thing about it is that my sales are increasing. Because it (sugarcane juice) is so inexpensive yet cooling, people come and drink a glass irrespective of their social status or class or how much money they have”.

A makeshift roof for the fruits.

While these vendors stand in the scorching heat all day to offer relief to others, all they have to protect themselves from the heat is an umbrella, a gamcha (a thin coarse cloth) to wipe off their sweat, or their own makeshift fabric roofs.

Enjoying kulfi while selling shikanji.

A young boy who seels shikanji has a colourful umbrella attached to his cart. As he waits for customers to arrive, he eats a kulfi to beat the heat and calm the temperature.

People cover their heads with a scarf and carry an umbrella wherever they go to dodge the sun. Some also wear sunglasses to prevent their eyes from squinting while others lather their face, skin, and body with sunscreen to dodge the UV rays.

Sleepy, sticky, hot noons.

While those who have the luxury of sitting at home, they do so and avoid walking on the streets. For those who don’t have a home or a the luxury of taking a day off, they find their ways just like this rickshaw puller. Tired after a long, sweaty day, the man takes a break and dozes off on his comfortable bed.

Only vehicles grace the fiels.

The open fields and farms, just like the roads, are lit with the sunlight yet they stand dry, barren, isolated, and empty for there are no living creatures surrounding it.

In the rush to 'punch in' on time.

But there are some who have to earn a living, go to schools & classes, and complete their shifts at offices and hence have no other option but to soak in sweat and walk till they reach their destination.

All weathers are fun for kids.

And then there are some exceptions: These young children have no air conditioners or fans in their homes for they live in houses made of tin and grass. But they still smile and frolic & run around even on the warmest of days. The sun doesn’t bother them as they run along with their friends—barefoot and with buckets, canisters, and water bottles in their hands. Maybe their parents have sent them to collect water from the nearby areas. And they have salvaged the situation and made it their own little game of “who collects the most”.

The nutrients-rich green bombs.

Some stop by a coconut seller or a fruit seller to take a break and hydrate themselves as much as they can. The road is vacant but vendors are always there with their offerings.

The coconut man.

Naeem brings fresh coconuts and aligns them in his shop every day. His shop lies in the middle of a school, college, and a hospital, and he feels that “is the best part”. He says, “A lot of customers visit our shop and sip on a coconut or two. The sweetest coconut is the one with malai and that’s what the majority demands”.

An ice cream bike.

For those who prefer to eat something cold, several ice cream carts can also be spotted. While some sellers make the chilled cart their sleeping bed, others just look at the road and wait for a kid or a customer to ask him for a rabdi kulfi, a butterscotch ice cream cup, or a chocolate bar.

Ajay the ice cream man.

Ajay sells kulfi and flavoured ice creams scooped in crunchy orange-coloured cones. Instead of going around the city cycling his cart, Ajay has made his makeshift ice cream cart on his motorbike. “I prefer selling ice creams on a bike since it’s easier to ride than a cycle cart. Also, people find it amusing when I ride around with ice cream cones on my back and it increases my sales!”, he happily shares.

Cycling throughout to earn a living.

There are others who serve people by exposing themselves to the heat: the rickshaw pullers and autorickshaw drivers. Sharing how he finds it hard to cycle from one corner of the city to the other, Shambu, a rickshaw driver shares, “It is very difficult to cycle around the area especially when the sun is on our head”.

Trees are my umbrella.

As the temperatures sore higher, people of the city get no respite. They find their refuge under the shade of tree, amid the leaves, or near a water pipe. Rifat, a gardner by profession, finds her solace under a tree as her husband works at a construction site. She poses and stand holding the branch of tree – embracing and nurturing it.

A Dahi Bhalla seller.

Lemony iced shikanji for INR 30.

But is this enough to beat the heat and the constant heatwaves?

Is this enough of an armour a safety to dodge the heatstrokes and death?

Only time and the news will tell.