| Chilling out
London, July 21: Those in India who like to escape the summer heat by flying to London should stay put ' over the last few days Calcutta has been cooler than London.
Avoid Piccadilly Circus, stick to Gariahat; do not get a ticket on the Northern line from London Bridge to King’s Cross, if you can instead find some reason to travel from Belgachhia to Chandni Chowk.
No wonder, then, that some Bollywood types have hightailed it back to Bandra.
In Britain, the temperature has been around 35-36 degrees Celsius, while in Calcutta, though it has varied from day to day, it has been a few degrees lower, according to the BBC weather forecasting department.
One newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, summed up the heat wave Britain is currently experiencing with a front page picture of a man pouring a bottle of chilled water over his head and the headline: “Phew!”
The strap lines read: “Hottest July day for 100 years!”, “Schools closed and sports day cancelled”.
In all this, one man has remained cool. Amitabh Bachchan, who collected an honorary degree in boiling Leicester on Tuesday, looked immaculate in his dark pinstripe suit worn with a silver coloured tie.
All this was enveloped by his woollen academic gown, worn with a dark bonnet, which would have made others feel warm even if the land outside had been covered by snow.
However, one of the amusing aspects of the sweltering heat has been the attitude of Indians who generally spend their summers in London ' “I wouldn't have come had I known it was going to be like this”.
On the Underground, which is far more stifling than the Calcutta Metro (nor are there fans stationed on the platforms), announcers have been urging passengers not to pull the alarm if anyone faints between stations and to “always carry a bottle of water with you”.
One paper had a picture of a bare-bodied Englishman travelling on the Underground in just his shorts. Pavement life, Paris style, has also become very popular, with Soho in the West End still busy at 3 am.
The difference between India and Britain is that in India, people know how to deal with the heat. They stay at home when the temperature is the hottest, go to school from dawn to 10.30 am and live in air-conditioned comfort if they are lucky enough to be able to afford it.
But in Britain, cars now feel as if motorists have been transported to the Dubai desert. Many public buildings and offices simply do not have air-conditioning because, generally speaking, there is no need for it.
It has become apparent that Britain, where the weather is characterised by soft rain and a temperate climate, would be a different country with a different history if this kind of heat were to become the norm.
Among those who complain the loudest are the British Indians who say: “I get very annoyed when people say, ‘You must be used to this.’ I tell them, ‘Why should I' I have lived here for over 30 years.’”
Meanwhile, the trade unions have urged employers to be more lenient and to allow workers to dress casually and not insist on suits and ties. The old rules have been relaxed anyway so that in many offices, “dress down Friday”, an American invention, has become dress down on any day. Alas, this somehow does not seem to work for Indians, especially Indian women, whose efforts to look informally cool make them appear totally shabby.
Ladbrokes, the bookies, are offering evens on the temperature rising above 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and 5/1 that it will rocket above 38.5, the highest temperature ever recorded in Britain.
Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said: “People appear certain the 100F mark will be beaten."
One political commentator, Boris Johnson, a Tory MP, argues that the British are letting themselves down.
“Hot' Call this hot'” he wrote yesterday. “One warm day and the whole country flops down in a faint like a bunch of wilted pansies. I mean what’s got into us, eh'”
Whipping himself into a lather, he continued: “Is this the nation that built the Empire' When Lawrence (of Arabia) was cantering his camels through the sands, was he pursued by health warnings about exposing the tips of his ears and nose to the desert glare'”