April is the cruellest month of the year, but not for the reasons that T.S. Eliot gave in the opening lines of his great poem. April in India is the month of suffering because it heralds the onset of summer. This year it has done so with some kind of vengeance. The mercury tells that in Calcutta there is a heat wave, with Friday being the hottest April day in ten years; in other parts of India, especially in the Gangetic plain, temperatures are hovering around 40 degrees, and arid and windless days and nights are becoming oppressive. While these features are manifest, there are others that provide grounds for deeper reflection. Weather patterns are changing. Delhi and parts of the northern Indian plains, in the past, always turned hot from the beginning of April, and summer peaked some time in May. This year, summer has been late in north India. Delhi, till the other day, was pleasant and was getting unseasonal rain. People were wondering, somewhat prematurely, if they would escape the heat. Calcutta and its environs have also been witness to changes in weather patterns. April in Bengal has always been synonymous with the nor’wester or the kalbaishakhi, when the sky is enveloped in billowing darkness, a cool wind picks up and is followed by thunder and a burst of rain. The outcome is a drop in temperature and some relief. Bengal loves its nor’wester, which, alas, has proved to be elusive this year and has made the heat more oppressive than ever before.
The cruelty of the summer heat makes people forget some of the benefits that the strong sunshine brings. The rays that sear and scald the skin also kill the germs in the air. This reduces the chances of disease and infections unless they are water borne. Sunshine, especially the severe variety, is therefore welcome. Most people forget this when they are outdoors and are forced to experience and suffer the heat. The sun is also good for the vegetation, especially for the greenery. In an age when greenery is shrinking because of the onslaughts of urban life, it is important to nurture the little that is left. Sunshine helps this process. The heat, therefore, is not an unmixed oppression.
Summer is an Oriental oppression. In the West, people revel in the long days and twilight of the summer months. It follows the rebirth that spring represents. Geoffrey Chaucer famously celebrated “that Aprill with his shoures soote/The droghte of march hath perced to the roote.’’ Such sentiments are not possible for April in India. This year the cruelty of April has coincided with the great Indian carnival. Spare a thought for the candidate on the campaign trail in the heat and also for the men and the women in the queues in the blistering sun.