It’s 11 am, but you’d be lucky to spot a soul on the streets of Titlagarh, a town of 60,000 people in the western Odisha district of Bolangir. Here, people get inside their homes by 10 am and do not venture out till 6 pm. The soaring mercury levels do not allow them out into the streets for the greater part of the day.
Inside their homes, people try everything they can, to beat the heat: from switching on airconditioners, aircoolers and ceiling fans, to consuming foods that cool the body. Stray dogs and bulls, too, desert the street, along with human beings for better part of the day, as the sun starts cutting an acute angle.
“You can say there is an undeclared curfew in Titlagarh after 10 am. If you still go out, either you are a very brave person or you are an outsider,” said Upendra Bag, a local Congressman. “Though summers are usually hot in Titlagarh, this time it feels like living in a furnace.”
Not surprisingly, Titlagarh has been the hottest pace in the country over the last weekend, with Sunday seeing a blistering 48.5 degree Celsius, Odisha’s all-time high April temperature. Since last week, temperatures in the town went northwards, as the Mercury shot past 45 degrees celsius.
“Although we have airconditioners in office, it is of no match for the rising heat,” said Kailash Sahu, sub-collector of Titlagarh.
Local journalist Dilip Purohit who has to go out on assignments, is feeling the heat like no others. “As soon as I leave bed at 5 am, I sense the heat. By 9 am it is unbearable and after 10 am anyone going out is won’t be able to last long. Even when I go out, I tie a wet gamchha over my head and drink as much buttermilk and soft drinks as possible. The heat is blinding,” said Purohit.
To beat the heat, local resident Sarat Mishra has been having Pakhala(watery rice), a popular dish in Odisha since lastfew weeks. “Even marwari people in our town who eat chapati are subsisting on pakhala now,” said Mishra.
Lack of adequate drinking water for the numerous paras in the town has meant frequent quarrel over who gets to fill their pots first.
Titlagarh gets its water from the Tel river, but that is hardly adequate. As the town sits on a rocky bed, groundwater is difficult to draw.
“The level of ground water is falling down over the years,” said Mishra. A few days ago, a junior engineer of public health department was roughed up by people over a water tanker turning up late. A case has been lodged with the local police station. Power outages and low voltage too are adding to the woes of people.
Rising heat has also meant that no meeting or social events are scheduled in the daytime. Marriages are being scheduled late in the evenings as there is fear of less attendance. Bag, who heads a local NGO convened a meeting at 6 pm two days ago. “No one turned up before 8.30 pm for that meeting,” he said.
In the popular parlance, Titlagarh is also known as Tatlagarh”(sizzling place) for being a heat island. There was a popular music video some years ago on the rising heat. While there is no clear wisdom why the town heats up so much, local people believe the Kumuda hill and a few ther hillocks surrounding the town act as heat radiators, adding a few degrees more to the already heated place.
From the way the temperature is going up, everyone in Titlagarh believes this year the mercury will cross 50.1 degree celsius mark, the highest summer temperature recorded in the town on June 3, 2003.