Many Words for Heat, Many Words for Hate

Amitava Kumar in Granta:

In Delhi the heat is chemical, something unworldly, a dry bandage or heating pad wrapped around the body. I sent a note to my friend Ravish, who was an anchor on NDTV’s Hindi show Prime Time. I asked Ravish that if Inuit supposedly have more than fifty words for snow (a specific word, for example, for snow used to make water), why don’t we Indians have more words for heat? Ravish asked members of his audience to respond to this question. Words and phrases that Ravish and I didn’t know, in a mix of Indian languages, came in from different cities and parts of the country, adding nuance and variety to what the newspapers were only calling a ‘heatwave’. Ravish concluded his monologue by saying that if you forget the many words for heat in your own language, you will also forget the names of your neighbors or the fact that people of two different religions used to live peaceably together. You will also forget why you are beginning to forget.

My publisher provided a car for me to go to bookshops and sign copies of my books. At one point I passed a billboard that showed a fighter jet in the sky and above it these words: Join IAF and give your career a flying start. That Indian Air Force ad hadn’t changed for forty years. I remember seeing it from bus windows in my late teens, and how, because I lacked any sense of direction, I would imagine myself in a jet, my head in the clouds.

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