By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
On Wednesday last at about six in the morning as I started to take out my car, suddenly the rain began to fall very heavily, accompanied by strong gusts of wind. I stopped the car and let the engine stall, and listened to the sound of the falling rain on the roof and all over the car, reminding me of my childhood days. In the house that I lived, the rain fell loudly on the sloping roof made of corrugated iron sheets, making a noise that was almost deafening at times, even frightening I would say, as I remember from my youngest years.
There was also the gluk-gluk sound of the rainwater falling down the dalo into a gamelle or an empty paint container that we used to fill up. This collection, which I believe would be glorified by the name of water-harvesting today, would be used for sundry cleaning and also for toilet purposes for, then, we did not have flush toilets inside the house: toilets were sheds outside in the yard, and it was the bucket system that was in use.
The good old days? Sure, many things were good then, but others were not so good either, sanitary facilities being one of them. Transport too, for that matter. In 1979 I was the best man for the marriage of a relative in the Isle of Man, and during the reception I sat next to the grandmother of the bride, who was from the island. She was about 80 years old, and she told me she much preferred the contemporary times she was now living in, because in her growing years there were no buses to take her from one end of the island to the other.
But of course we adapted, as we do now too. We will always have to anyway, and survive. ‘Adapt or Perish’ is an expression I have heard sometime, but perhaps used in another context. Still, it has its relevance, in the sense of accommodating oneself to the changing environment. Thus, despite the rain, there were some diehards at the Trou-O-Cerfs that morning, and they were already in action when I reached there after the rain had slowed down a little about ten minutes past six.
There is a lot going about climate change due to global warming, which in turn is put down to a large extent to human activities. In spite of the conclusions of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) set up by the United Nations, there are still sceptics and deniers, questioning the very fact of climate change. But we will leave the specialists to their controversies, and come down to earth as it were. For to us, ordinary mortals and denizens of the planet, there can be no doubt that there are changes taking place in the pattern of the seasons and the day-to-day weather that we have to live through and with constantly, and that may be linked to phenomena that affect us and that have not been seen before.
For example, the drying up of the largest reservoir of domestic water supply in the island, Mare-aux-Vacoas. Is it not filling up, and if so why, or is there leakage? What is visible and certain is that there has been human activity around its drainage area that had not been present only a few years earlier, and it would appear that this short period has coincided with the reservoir becoming drier than it used to be previously. There are questions to be answered and solutions to be found.
On the other hand, last week for several days beginning at the weekend, there was an oppressive heat about which everyone was complaining – even in Curepipe where, unusually, fans had to be used so as to allow one to sleep comfortably at night. We have not had, however, had reports of any deaths due to the effects of the hot weather. It will be recalled that a few years ago, during a prolonged canicule in France, about 20,000 elderly people were estimated to have lost their lives as a result mainly of dehydration. The recent cold wave that gripped Europe has also resulted in several reported deaths.
Across the world, even in the advanced countries, extreme heat or cold especially if it is sudden and unexpected, almost invariably results in human deaths. But otherwise, in places like Siberia, or the extreme north of Canada where the Inuit people live, subzero temperatures are a matter of daily experience, and the inhabitants are perfectly adjusted to their mode of living.
In a documentary I was seeing the other day, I learnt that the Inuit people live on moose and seal meat, and do not consume any vegetables because they can’t grow any in their snow-covered lands. They did not seem to be any worse off for that. But in our modern, urbanized civilization, with plenty of additives in the processed food we consume, meat eating – especially of the red variety – wreaks havoc in our hearts and arteries because of the cholesterol and fat content, according to current scientific understanding.
Anybody wanna go live in the frozen norths?
In the torrid summer of 1976 in England, the worse in 40 years and that lasted for nearly a month, when Londoners stripped to their bare minimum and crowded under the public fountains in the West End, an enterprising entrepreneur – so I learnt later – chartered a planeload of fans from India and made good business. I must confess to a crime I committed then: I was putting up temporarily with an Auntie, in London, and I cheated and watered the flower beds in her back garden because it hurt my heart to see them crying for water…
In the same England, in Wakefield, West Yorkshire where I lived in the latter half of the 1970s, I remember how depressing it was during the winter because it used to be dark when we left for work in the mornings and when we returned to our flat in the evenings. We could never really ‘adapt’ to that weather, which is the reason why we rushed back as soon as we were done with our studies. Others, I guess, were braver than us!
However, I have since settled down in my Curepipe after brief passages at Pamplemousses and Quatre Bornes. Winters are still great. Come home in the evening to the warmth of the indoors, have an early hot dinner after a little warmer-up, watch a bit of TV and snuggle up under a warm quilt with a nice book until one sinks into the blissful oblivion of deep slumber. What more can one ask of this life?
* Published in print edition on 2 March 2012