Colonial hangover

The British is credited with using ‘weather’ as an impersonal and acceptable topic of conversation. But of course they are not alone in doing this. We, Indians, too exhibit a distinct propensity for it, a colonial hangover perhaps.

In our country, we have little that approximates to the spring, summer, autumn and winter of the West. For us, it is summer, monsoon and winter, if it can be called that. In the searing months of summer, it is not unusual to be greeted with, ‘Can it possibly get hotter?’ When the rains come, we are full of remarks about flooded streets, dank clothes and streaming colds. And during our winters, to the amusement of those from colder climes, we wrap ourselves in winter wear and ask those who haven’t why he or she has come without a shawl or sweater.

No topic, it must be admitted, is quite as safe as the weather. It is always there to fall back on. Where walls have ears and sting operations abound, you can expatiate without fear on the weather. You can have strong opinions on what it means, say whether you like it or not and comment on what it might do to you or to anyone else. You will not wound any sensibilities or be hauled up for abuse or libel.

However, does talking about weather amount to talking about nothing important? If truth be told, weather has a hidden face and it is not as innocuous as it seems. It is a colossal force that can strike without warning. History tells us how effectively it can change the tide of human affairs. It has caused the winning and losing of wars. Napoleon and Hitler, both superb war tacticians, were defeated by ‘General Winter’, with the result that one was forced into exile, while the other snuffed out his life with his own hands.

It has had a large influence in the discovery of continents and sea routes and caused the Cape of Storms to be renamed the Cape of Good Hope. It has also led people to migrate from inhospitable regions to more comfortable ones. It is besides the driving force behind what we eat, how we dress and indeed what we look like. What is more, it plays a big part in how each one of us feels and behaves in our daily dealings. Depending on the weather that prevails, one feels either bright and cheerful or moody and irritable.

According to writer, Annie Dillard, there are about seven or eight categories of phenomenon worth talking about and weather is one of them. Few of us though have much understanding about how it works and the immense powers it possesses. Its true nature and intents elude even the experts leading them into wrong forecasts. Its very unpredictability is perhaps why it is a chosen subject of casual conversation.
It is sad therefore that what we know about the weather is not put to good use. We continue to desecrate our environment thoughtlessly and the climate conferences we hold are just so much hot air. It is time to acknowledge that, in the larger scheme of things, whether human matter will almost inevitably turn out to be a matter of weather.

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