We hardly ever went to the seaside as children. Family outings were rare, and I loved them in a conflicted way. The idea of going to the beach meant it was a special day, and I always ruined it.
Inevitably, I would be car sick en route. I don’t recall being given any motion sickness medications beforehand; maybe they were an unknown entity then, but a plastic bag and a lime would be standard gear.
Generally, we would fight for the two back window seats, but it was understood that during the winding drive to Maracas Bay, I had to get one. The four of us would scrunch up in the back, not tightly, because the car was big and it was one straight seat, happy for the unexpected treat. All would be fine until a few minutes into the winding North Coast Road. I won’t go far into the details, but there would have to be a pit-stop while I retched, then sucked on a lime, or vice-versa. (I have always wondered if my love for limes came from then.) The wretched queasiness would subside by the time we unloaded and hit the waves. Then the nausea would have been worth it.
Although none of us could swim, we bobbed and frolicked under the burning sun, oblivious to the blistering heat as the waves tumbled us and the sand shifted tantalisingly under our toes. None of us ever wanted to come out of the water. I don’t remember now how I fared on the return journeys, but I was recalling how as children, we were always blithely oblivious to the relentless tropical sunshine in our pursuit of happiness.
As I got older, it became obvious that my skin could not handle the rays. Once outdoors, around my eyes would burn as if my head had been stuck in an oven. It seems there was an over-production of melanin in that area, too, which would lead to my panda-eyes, as they called me. I would get heat rashes and blinding headaches from the glare; and I am not talking about at the beach here.
In our uninformed way, we knew nothing about sunscreen or UV rays. Later, they would be prescribed for me and I would dutifully apply when I ventured out. It would make me sweat profusely, the kind that looks like little bubbles making patterns under your eyes and your chin. Worse, it stung like hell. It never ever occurred to me that the stinging was not a natural feature of sunscreen. My panda-eyes would be livid from the burn, and still I thought there was nothing odd. I watched cricket on TV, marvelling at the way players slathered it on to a thick white paste on their faces—that seemed heroic.
It was only recently when my daughter, a water baby herself, was advising me to wear sunscreen as I was heading out to the backyard, that I told her about my agonies with it, and how I didn’t know how she tolerated it without complaint. Her bemused look said it all. She had never experienced any such irritation. It was another of those moments that made me feel I was a temperate woman in a tropical space, born in the wrong climate zone.
Forced to be even more confined indoors by the unbearable heat these days, I have been reflecting on those issues with the sun. These past couple of weeks have been uncomfortable: apart from the Saharan dust which has been tormenting me unexpectedly—I was never conscious of being so severely afflicted in the past—my ears have been heavy and blocked; my eyes burn all the time, my sinuses are blocked, and I have actually had bouts of my childhood wheezing. I had been waking up conscious of the smell of burning wood and ash; not realising that in the Aranjuez Savannah, one of the old tree stumps had been smouldering for days.
A couple of my friends in New Delhi have told me about their health struggles with the devastating pollution in the atmosphere, especially following Divali celebrations. You can’t help but make connections, can you?
You take some things for granted—that the planet is suffering from the polluting habits of humans—and you assume that people would want to do what they can to reduce the destruction, or the rate of it. Then people say things that make you wonder what thoughts flitter through those minds, and why.
It is easy to be cynical about COP26. These gatherings have been events of hype and promise for decades and still here we are, perched on the brink. But while I have heard people reasonably questioning the carbon footprint and the financial cost of the event, I have also heard arguments that the extent of the environmental crisis is being grossly exaggerated.
I am not an expert on anything and, to be honest, I am wary of those who claim to be, but it seems to me that it is a politician’s ploy to pretend that the length of the time-line being predicted determines how urgently we must act.
Does it matter whether it is a decade or ten before the planet becomes unsustainable? I feel the trajectory is the alarming aspect. If we mashing up the place, we mashing up the place; today, tomorrow, no difference.
—The author is an editor,
writer and cricket historian.