Sahil Makkar: Many Indian summers didn't prepare me for the NSW Central West’s heat

CHANGING PLACES: Regional journalist Sahil Makkar lived for more than 25 years in New Delhi, where the temperature gets up to 50 degrees. He is now experiencing his first summer in the Central West. Photo: MATT WATSON
CHANGING PLACES: Regional journalist Sahil Makkar lived for more than 25 years in New Delhi, where the temperature gets up to 50 degrees. He is now experiencing his first summer in the Central West. Photo: MATT WATSON

NOT all heat is the same, as regional journalist Sahil Makkar has discovered since he made the move from New Delhi to NSW five months ago. Here, he compares summers in his home city with the hot months in the Central West.

I’VE survived a 50-degree day in New Delhi, but I’m still happy to admit that my first Australian summer is proving a real eye-opener.

Growing up in India, the news was regularly filled with stories about the mercury getting set to break records, people dying because of heat stroke, air-conditioner sales going through the roof, water shortages and electricity demand at its peak. 

Every summer we would brace for higher temperatures – probably due to climate change or the rapid urbanisation of towns and cities – and sometimes we would face up to 50 degrees. 

(Officially, the temperature would always remain under 50 degrees, because no government wants to announce an emergency and relief measures, including closing schools and offices.)

That was life in New Delhi, in India’s north, where I lived for more than 25 years before migrating to Australia.

MAKING A SPLASH: Rivers are a popular place to keep cool during the heat of an Indian summer. Photo: SAHIL MAKKAR

MAKING A SPLASH: Rivers are a popular place to keep cool during the heat of an Indian summer. Photo: SAHIL MAKKAR

This is my first summer here. And now I am listening to and reporting the same stories – but I have noticed some differences.  

The heatwave is the biggest news in Australia and it appears everyone is really serious about it. Every authority is busy issuing warnings and alerts. People are made aware of the risks, possibly because the ozone layer is thinnest over the Australian sky – at least this is what I have heard and read before migrating here.

Unlike most Indian media, which are obsessed with political, sports and celebrity-related news, every media outlet here has provided adequate coverage of the rising temperature and ways to beat the heat.

I am personally involved in running a five-day blog for my publications.

The other difference in Australia? The intensity of heat. Though the temperature is still below 40 degrees here, it feels much different than New Delhi. 

DRINKS BREAK: Sahil and a group of friends on a journey take a break at a popular outlet on the outskirts of New Delhi for Shikanji, a drink made from water, sugar, lemon, salt and some special spices. Photo: SAHIL MAKKAR

DRINKS BREAK: Sahil and a group of friends on a journey take a break at a popular outlet on the outskirts of New Delhi for Shikanji, a drink made from water, sugar, lemon, salt and some special spices. Photo: SAHIL MAKKAR

The heat in New Delhi is dry, whereas I have been surprised by the way the sun stings here.

But Australia seems to have got its house design and open space right for the climate.

New Delhi houses are small compared to an average Australian house and every wall in them is made of bricks, sand and cement – making it difficult for the heat to escape.

People mostly stay indoors in New Delhi during the peak summer months of March, April, May and June. The city only gets rain in the last week of June or early July. 

Most New Delhi residents take off to cooler places during the months of March, April and May to avoid the heat.

Schools are closed during this time. 

GOING ON A HOLIDAY: Sahil and his New Delhi family waiting to board a train at a famous tourist spot in north India. Photo: SAHIL MAKKAR

GOING ON A HOLIDAY: Sahil and his New Delhi family waiting to board a train at a famous tourist spot in north India. Photo: SAHIL MAKKAR

People tend to avoid outdoor activities between 11am and 5pm – when the sun is at its peak. But those who have no option but to travel for work mostly rely on public buses and metro trains, which are fully air-conditioned.  

Life never stops in New Delhi even when the temperature reaches above 45 degrees, but people continue to dress formally, at least compared to Australians. Shorts have only become a common sight in the last two decades. 

But Indians have their own ingenious ways of beating the heat. Before air-conditioners became a common sight in New Delhi households post-2000, most people would go to roadside carts for sugarcane and bel (Aegle marmelos) juice.

Butter milk, lemonade and Sharbat (made of flower petal and fruit) drinks are also very popular in Indian households during summer months. 

People really cherish these drinks because they are not only refreshing, but also are considered the best way to beat the heat. 

I doubt those drinks are going to catch on in Australia. But a cold beer on a hot day here seems just as refreshing to me.