The last time we came to India in the summer was in 2006. Huddled in my brother’s cool bedroom, we watched Zinedine Zidane head-butt Marco Materazzi in the France-Italy final of the World Cup.
The rest of the time, I drew the curtains, turned up the fan, blasted the AC, and slept for 18 hours a day to cope with the heat. It was at once blissful and frustrating. I went back to the US well rested and at my highest weight ever because I spent no calories beyond what was needed to keep my anatomy chugging.
Good memories have a way of supplanting the weird ones. So here we are - back in India at the height of summer. This time I came with battle worthy preparation. Loose cotton clothes, sunglasses, anti-frizz stuff for my hair, the works.
I was determined not to indulge in the eat-sleep cycle. I was not going to merely survive. I was going to thrive. In the process, I observed why Indians are a force to be reckoned with.
When I am in India, I remind myself of two numbers: 4x and 1/3.
India has four times the population of the US and a third of the landmass. Shrink our US home by a third, increase our headcount by four and then scale up astronomically. That’s what India is like. It is teeming with people, cars, motorcycle and pedestrians. While this would paralyze other nations, India has already administered 2 billion Covid vaccine doses, despite the population. In case you are curious, US has done 599M so far.
When we transited through Heathrow on our way to Delhi from Washington, it took two hours from docking at the jet bridge to getting through security and to the lounge. Two hours is a third of the time it took to fly from Washington Dulles to Heathrow. Go figure!
Heathrow has capped passenger capacity to 100,000 per day and ground staff is struggling to cope. In contrast, Delhi airport shepherds 70M passengers annually, which roughly translates to 200,000 passengers a day. The lines in Delhi for checking in and security amount to nothing in comparison. Passengers breeze through dozens of security channels separated into male and female queues. Not to say that the heart doesn’t race when the maskless person behind you literally breathes down your neck because he is standing so close. Yet, to see queues being processed at this scale is an absolute wonder.
Crowd control? Redefined!
While Europe is cooking in the summer heat with wildfires, damaged runways, and 40 degree temps, India is casually dealing with similar heat as if it is just another day in paradise. My cousin sent this image in our family Whatsapp thread and had us rolling on the floor laughing. No disrespect to the Brits who are suffering in the heat but...really...the ancestors did do the colonizing bit in full Victorian fashion.
In our brief walk from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 at Delhi airport, we melted. Parts of our anatomy were in a puddle at our feet. Our clothes were drenched and the plasma in our body simply evaporated. I thought I was going to pass out in the unbearable heat. But I reminded myself that I had come mentally prepared and wasn’t going to let the temps sink me. Once inside the air-conditioned terminal, we rehydrated and quickly transitioned to thriving. As we queued to board, I understood yet again, that nothing in India stops because of the heat. If it did, the global economy (at least the technology sector) would come to a grinding halt and fell us all.
As I looked out of the hotel window in Mumbai, I saw dozens of Mumbaikars working out on Juhu beach even though the rain was lashing at them, tall palm trees were swinging wildly overhead, and the ocean was angrily swaying right behind them. Nothing, not even the legendary monsoons, was going to get between these enthusiasts and their health. When I narrated the details to my my sister-in-law, she said Indians love two-in-one offers and that exercise and a free shower must have been a massively attractive combo.
There is so much to learn from this wondrous country and the spirit of its amazing people. Whether I can come when the temps soar to 50C and still thrive remains to be seen.
The bureaucracy is quite another story. More on that coming soon.