1884 - Rudyard Kipling
A Letter from Lahore: Summer Heat
"I want to make your flesh creep" with a description of our unholy weather just now. It's not that l wish to be pitied, because I am disgustingly well, but I take an interest and a deep pride in everything that Lahore produces. To begin with; for the past seven days we have not seen the sun, and thrice in that time the lamps have been lit at our office at high noon. As you look out of window the land seems to have been smitten with a black frost and fog, and the view ends in mist at fifty yards range - it might be London in November but for the heat, and that is really terrifying. At six o'clock in the evening the butt of my riding crop is too hot to hold, and I can feel the heat of the stirrup-irons through the soles of my boots. All through the day the air is perfectly dead and smells hideously - the smell of sulphur, old brick fields and charnel houses. In the evening, at seven punctually, a burning wind cracks our skin for an hour and then dies away in thunder and a flash or two of summer lightning and the thermometer stands as high at night as it does in the day. All sounds are deadened as if the skies were hung with wool and there are awful half hours towards the end of the day when you feel as though the "Twilight of the Gods" had begun. At nine in the morning you twist a handkerchief round your dog cart reins before you can lay a finger on them and you are lucky if in your evening ride or drive a blast of the hot wind doesn't make your nose bleed. It cuts into the nostrils like a razor and has more than once sent me home with all the appearance of a severely wounded warrior. I ain't proud but can your country produce anything like this?
The oldest inhabitant says that he remembers nothing like this, because by rights we ought to have a sky of brass over our heads and a clean heat withal. No one seems to know what it means but all are agreed that rain must come ere long. You in the West who talk so much about the weather can't understand what it is to wait for a drop of water to cool your torments. Here's a faithful copy of a conversation holden this evening between two residents - men bien entendu.
"How's your room? Mine's 96°."
"You're lucky. Can't keep mine below 100°. Any hope of rain?"
"Don't know. There's been heavy rain in the Hills but the River's Iow. Looks bad. How's your liver?"
"All right. Had six hours fever yesterday from sleeping in the thermantidote though."
"Ah! you should avoid thermantidotes like pork and pegs. How much quinine pulled you through?"
"Fifty grains in the day. My head's all jumpy now. Come and have a drink. What'll you take?"
"Sulphuric ether peg; and you?"
"Tonic and bitters, thanks. Boy, bring a punkah." Then they collapsed but I took down the conversation verbatim on my sleeve cuff, but it was all spoken with immense deliberation and the regular hot weather drawl that we all get into. It took about fifteen minutes to deliver. Sulphuric ether pegs are nasty things to take but a chlorodyne one is worse and a tonic and bitters vilest of all. Every mixed drink with soda water is a peg - but they don't necessarily include whiskey.
All this time, though, the Mother and the Sister are far away in a cool climate where they wear velvet and plush and fear neither the "pestilence that walketh in the darkness or the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday" and their daily letters full of stories of cold wet rains and bitter thunderstorms fill us two with peace. Every evening as the budget is read and the cheroots are brought on the table we go through our chorus of thanks giving. The Pater, with his head in a bowl of hot charcoal trying to light his smoke: - "Well, (puff) praise the (puff, puff) Lord they are out of it." The Son meditatively from the depths of a cane chair: -
"Yes," - then, as a happy thought strikes him, "and they are best where they are." The formulae of Father and Son seldom vary and the expression comes to our lips almost mechanically. I have badgered the Pater into taking a ten days "privilege leave" at the end of this month because I fancy the weather is telling on him. He has a report to write which I have bound myself by solemn oaths to finish for him. His three months holiday begins in August but the extra leave won't do him any harm. Now, have I made your flesh creep sufficient? because I'm going to put myself to grjll on a heated stove falsely called a bed, while the fetid air is puddled up to some semblance of a breeze by an inefficient punkah and I have no more time to spare on my revered cousin. The sheet is as warm as though it had been freshly ironed - verily the "Land of Regrets" is a sweet place.
Letters, edited by Thomas Pinney