MUMBAI — I don’t know why I insist on running outdoors in the summer. Already at 6 a.m., Mumbai has started to swelter. But when the alarm goes off, my inner sadist meets my endorphin junkie, and feet find their way into running shoes. I grit my teeth before I close the front door behind me.
I can feel the heat sizzling up from the concrete even before I pick up pace, turning onto Marine Drive, a palm tree-lined boulevard curving around the Arabian Sea in the southern part of this island city. The sun, deceptively hiding behind tall buildings, sends mean little rays to mark its territory on the otherwise shady boardwalk.
Warm salty wind meets car exhaust—at best, a pitiful breeze, but at its worst, an outdoor sauna. It’s too late to turn back now, so I continue, passing street sweepers, dog walkers and women with the free end of their saris tucked in at the waist, all huffing and puffing through the dense air.
Many glance occasionally at the swirling clouds overhead, searching for signs of rain—the only respite from this blistering heat. But the specter of drought looms, because the monsoon is late this year, according to India’s Meteorological Department. And the forecast for the four-month rainy season from June to September is bleak. Rainfall is likely to be “deficient,” with some 12 percent less than the average rainfall, according to a statement issued last week by the department.
The monsoon officially broke over the coastal state of Kerala on June 5, four days later than the normal date of June 1, the department said in a statement. (PDF) It has yet to arrive in Mumbai, although pre-monsoonal showers on Sunday brought down mercury levels in the financial capital.
As is usually the case, the poor are the worst hit by the heat and late monsoons—parts of rural Maharashtra have been battling with a shortage of water for much of the summer, according to the Press Trust of India. And the impending drought has caused the price of pulses, various dried beans and lentils that are a cheap and popular source of protein for vegetarians, to skyrocket, say local news reports.
Other parts of India are also battling with climatic disaster. More than 2,500 people have died of a nationwide heat wave, with temperatures hitting 118 degrees Fahrenheit. India hasn’t experienced such a deadly inferno since 1998, when over 2,000 people died in the eastern state of Odisha. This year, the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been worst affected, in part because the states do not have “the mechanism to either foresee or plan for such an emergency,” according to an opinion piece in The Hindu newspaper. Other states have specific action plans to cope with soaring temperatures and humidity, but “in the absence of similar preventive measures or even awareness campaigns” Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have failed to contain the crisis, says the columnist.
India’s National Disaster Management Authority on its website lists tips for coping with a heat wave, including “avoid strenuous activities when the outside temperature is high.” For many farmers, that is hardly feasible, especially given their fears about crop failure caused by drought.
For a compulsive runner in Mumbai, the advice is also hard to heed. I’ll admit I’ve skipped a day or two, but for some inexplicable reason, I’ve been unable to give up running altogether. Perhaps it’s the sensation of relief when, sapped of all energy on the final stretch home, I realize that I am not going to collapse. Or, as the summer rolls to an end, perhaps it’s the hope that one morning the monsoon will break halfway through, and I can finish my run in the rain.