While returning from a game drive at Ranthambhor today, it suddenly struck me that just when the wise and civilised apes of my city would be heading for their 9 to 5 jobs, all the jungle creatures we consider dumb were settling down to comfortably relax in shade.
The naked ape believes that it is a creature of great wisdom and looks down upon the denizens of jungle that are not enjoying benefits of industrial civilization; but on a summer morning with mercury heading for 40 C, my respect for ape’s intelligence is evaporating faster than a drop of water on tarmac.
For all warm-blooded creatures, economics of heat management is central to their way of life. Maintaining body temperature within a critical range is the main agenda around which life is lived, as a failure to do so would mean a certain death.
As the biggest factor acting on this range is external temperature, being alive is nothing but dynamics of responding to it. The difference between external temperature and required body temperature is countered by increasing or decreasing metabolic activity.
For the 38 C creatures that we are, external temperature that we find most comfortable is about 24 C. As body activities produce heat, the difference of 14 C gets well compensated by metabolic heat, allowing us to be efficiently functional.
As the mercury rises above 24 C, heat produced by body activities starts needing dissipation. The only direct mechanism we have for solving this problem is sweating, i.e. evaporative cooling.
Once external temperature moves past 40 C, body is left with no internal solution to counter it. Sweating can help only if body stops producing internal heat completely. This makes life after 40 a tricky one.
Though we humans like to assume that we enjoy more creature comforts than all other creatures, the joke is likely to be on us. Midday siesta is common to all warm-blooded creatures, and that too because it makes more sense in body heat management.
In fact, modern man is probably living the worst of life in history of humanity by ignoring the heat regulated life-style other creatures have. If we look back at our own ancestors, it is most likely that, compared to our 8 hour working day, they just worked for 4 hours and relaxed for the rest of the day.
If we look closely at the modern life-style that emerged after industrial revolution, it becomes clear that it is an act of cruelty by the greedy elites desirous of amassing wealth inflicted upon the masses. The 40 hour week sold as a virtue of hardworking man is actually an abuse of human body, more so in India.
Those sitting in air-conditioned rooms fail to see that 9 to 5 has never been the active phase for creatures living on tropics. Humans had evolved lifestyle and culture around heat response not only because it is comfortable, it is also more energy-efficient. What we have as lifestyle today is akin to creating a problem and taking a great pride in solving it using technology and energy.
What India needs is to become aware of its climate and build a way of life around it. We need to build our cities, our work places, homes and more importantly, our work schedules around our weather.
As a poor nation, we may not be able to reduce working hours like Europe; but we can, at least, make them comfortable. With climate getting harsher by the year, we need serious steps to save those with no choice but to toil from the hellish and killer heat.