Lightning flashes light the night sky, momentarily turning midnight blue to bright white and warning of approaching rain. When it finally arrives, the first light drops quickly turn into giant splatters filling the gutters to overflowing within minutes. The sound of falling rain and water gushing from spouts onto the ground muffle the honking and motors of the evening traffic, ferrying passengers home to shelter. The rain beds down the dirt in the air and brings with it a cooler, more bearable temperature. The earthy damp smell unique to rain that has fallen on hot dry land is blown into my room by the stormy wind rousing sentimental memories of summer rain in Australia.
In my spearmint green bedroom, the temperature is cooler but still uncomfortably warm. I feel the urge to stand outside in the rain, allowing it to drench me in coldness. Instead I walk momentarily through the rain to the outside shower. Closing the door to the outside rain, I stand under the cool, sprinkling water as it slowly wets my hair and skin and the layer of dirt and sweat runs onto the tiles and down the drain. I am reluctant to turn off the water for as soon as I do my shower cupboard becomes a mild sauna and a new layer of sticky oily sweat coats my skin.
No matter how many times I shower or wash each day, I end up feeling the same, uncomfortable, as oil, sweat and dirt coat my skin once more. Although my body is well used to Asian climate, the heat and accompanying humidity here is overwhelming and the only way my body can cope is to sweat, all day and all night until I lay down in my bed to sleep. During the day I wear a singlet to absorb my sweat and loose Indian clothing to cover my limbs and allow air to circulate over my skin. My hair is tied up on my head to cool my neck. But it doesn’t matter what I do or what I wear, I feel constantly bedraggled and I’m sure I look that way too.
The air carries constant invisible particles of dirt ready to coat my skin every time I venture out. It doesn’t help that many of the roads are part bitumen, part dirt and rocks. As I ride my moped through the crowded streets, dodging bicycles, rickshaws and motorbikes, more dirt is flicked into the air and settles on my skin so that my once clean body is coated once more.
I hand wash my clothes daily to prevent sweat and dirt staining the cloth. But no matter how much I scrub, my whites are never quite white. Black hides the dirt well but is the worst colour to wear under this hot Indian sun.
I went to the beach thinking that a dip in the Bay of Bengal would cool and refresh me. The cloudy surf was warm with a strong undertow that I didn’t think suitable for swimming. I dipped my body into its murky shallows to cool my skin but as I stood up out of the water the humid air wrapped itself around my body leaving me sticky and feeling unclean once again.
The only lengthy respite I have discovered was a day spent at Mango Hill Hotel’s swimming pool. A long soak in cool water and like magic my sweating ceased replaced by a cleansed freshness that stayed with me long after I returned to my Pondicherry home. But I didn’t come here to spend my days at a swimming pool. I came here to interact and to be of service where and how I can.
Adapting to the heat and dirt is taking me a little longer than adapting to my living arrangements and the general chaos here. I can’t escape it although I can find temporary reprieve which is more than many, many people who live here in simple huts, no electricity and no running water. I'm not comfortable but then I didn’t really come here to be comfortable. I’m grateful to be here in this incredible country. Still, I'm hoping for a day where I can at least get out of bed and not start sweating straight away.