Friday, March 12, 2010


The mercury has been rising. Quite astronomically, if I may add so. Whilst newspapers tagged yesterday's temperature of 37.5 deg C as the highest in 22 years, our two reliable thermometers indicated 45 deg C (outdoors-in shade) at 1630 hrs. This morning, at 0800 hrs, the same thermometers recorded 29 deg C.

Ideal room temperatures are usually in the range of 21-25 deg C, which the American Society for Testing and Materials stretches to 38 deg C. After all, it is recommended that the human body should be maintained within/around 37 deg C. In Kerala, there have already been some deaths due to sunstroke which is hardly shocking: when the windows are opened, a blast of searing air greets you, very much akin to how it feels when opening the door of a pre-heated oven. Perhaps the boiling temperatures mightn’t pose a problem for the well-heeled, who reside in centrally air-conditioned houses, travel in air-conditioned Mercs/Audi/BMWs, and work in air-conditioned offices. But the majority is fortified only with an umbrella. Our non-air-conditioned home, during these sultry times, have an indoor temperature of 30 deg C, which is certainly thanks to the greenery maintained by us. Our neighbours, on the other hand, have been moaning about the agonising heat.

The Trivandrum of my earliest memories had a pleasant temperature range (this link would provide a quick glimpse), with us then considering temperatures of 30 – 32 deg C to be exceptionally warm. Until around a decade ago, the maximum range was around 33- 34 deg C. The change in weather/climate is much more perceptible since I have not been around for a few years. And I am quite convinced that these soaring temperatures have to do with (at least partly) the virulent de-greening of the city, the foliage having been a protective cloak.

As a toddler, I recollect Trivandrum as a very green city which the aerial view substantiated: a dark emerald carpet with very few perceptible buildings (for the towering trees concealed the myriads of settlements). Roads were lined with stately avenue trees, the parks and grounds of various offices had copious greenery (mainly mature trees), and most houses had shrubs and trees of various sizes. Pockets and belts of paddy fields, fallow grounds, and wooded areas were located just around 10-15 minutes walk away from our home, which is located barely 1 km away from the main arterial road, MG Road, the continuation of the National Highway (a twin of London’s Marylebone Road). Such green pockets, with water bodies, used to abound everywhere, with culverts and brooks transporting pristine water flourishing with aquatic flora and fauna. The traditional Keralite house was also very eco-friendly, similar to a Roman villa, often in the same proportions: there was one-three nadu muttam (an inner courtyard like the peristylium), often with pools (like the Roman impluvium). Whilst herbs and shrubs would be planted in the areas immediately surrounding the house, trees would be planted a little distance away. Thus, it is not that surprising that the weather then was tolerable.

When we fast-forward to a few years, we can notice the progressive de-greening, more so within the past six years. Most of the avenue trees have been hewn down (presumably as part of the road widening projects or to lay down massive cables; or for no apparent reason). The pattern is repeated in the grounds of various offices, where the ‘garden’ comprises of concrete tiles and lawns. The green pockets are, more or less, nonexistent, having been replaced by towering apartment complexes and sprawling mansions. Culverts and brooks have dried up and most ponds have been filled up. And the modern Keralite house shuns greenery (as hinted in my post in Ecoratorio).

So, what can be done?
The first should be to halt (or at least decrease) this de-greening in the name of development. This can be easily implemented by the city corporation (and the state government) which not only issues building permits, but also makes and implements building policies and controls. For instance, making it mandatory for new buildings and developments to:
- plant and maintain a sufficient amount of vegetation.
- follow environmentally friendly and sustainable architecture.
- plant more avenue trees.

Secondly, residents could be provided with incentives to maintain greenery in the grounds of their homes.
Thirdly, the derelict ponds could be cleaned.
Fourthly, instead of converting paddy fields and fallow lands into developments, farming could be encouraged.

If not, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kerala ends up with a faster desertification rate.


  1. I'm glad you are reaping the benefits of your lovely garden! It has been terribly hot in Brazil recently, with official temperatures in the high 30s (45 is frightening!), but there is at least a culture of planting trees. This is mainly to provide much needed shade, but hopefully it has some cooling effect as well.
    I know that the Moors of southern Spain, which is very hot and dry, had houses with an inner courtyard like the impluvium, in this case with a fountain.

  2. The rain clouds have been gathering and we are hoping that there will be some kind of a respite (sans thunderstorms though)!

    It is heartening to know about trees being planted there. How are you dealing with the warm temperatures?

    I've noticed the same Roman villa style being followed in South American colonial houses as well, complete with a lovely wild garden in the impluvium.

  3. oops. peristylium and not impluvium


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