‘It is 34 degrees, very hot,” said our driver and made sounds as if he was sucking air, presumably to point out that the Bengaluru weather is sizzling.
It was time to show off my extensive international travel and experience, and I casually remarked, “Ha, this is nothing. When I was in Saudi Arabia, the temperature would hit 50 degrees.”
I remembered how my “pre-owned” BMW’s air-conditioner would die at the very first sign of summer.
You also could not get into the car and immediately drive off; there were some rituals to be done first. You either spat on your hands or pulled out a tonne of tissue paper out of the tissue box and then held the steering wheel with it, or you would scorch your palms.
You made sure never to touch anything metallic with any part of your body until 30 minutes after the air-conditioning kicked in or you would burn some sensitive part.
The high temperature was kept very hush-hush, as they say in Brit spy films, and it was officially always a pleasant 43 degrees. (This was the era before smart cars would come with built-in temperature gauges and it was the time before the internet and world wide web, where anything could be looked up, including the weather).
No ordinary seat cover
My wife and kid hated travelling in my car.
“Let’s just take a taxi,” my wife would say diplomatically. We drove down to “balad” in downtown Jeddah in a taxi driven by a demented cabbie and he would roll down the windows for “cool, fresh air” as the hot, muggy breeze from the sea opened my pores.
I knew our driver was setting the scene for something he wanted. “I need a car seat cover, sir,” he said. “The [imitation] leather is making me stick to the seat.”
This was no ordinary seat cover. When we went to the auto accessories shop, the seat cover he wanted looked like giant beads that were sown in a pattern corresponding to the shape of your bottom and back.
It was supposed to circulate the air underneath you as you drove in the heat and dust and it helped you relax as the beads massaged your sensitive points.
(I once went to a press conference for a yoga meet and in the gift bag for the unsuspecting journos, was a hard, plastic thingy that looked like an evil hedgehog. You had to stand on it, if you could, and it would help relieve stress by poking deep into the pressure points of your soles, or so we were led to believe. Later, I tried giving it away to my colleagues and friends, but nobody wanted it).
‘It is not the heat, it is the humidity’
Since I had worked for some years in Dubai, I knew what else I needed for the car. “Do you have sun screens for the windows? I asked the salesperson. “I want 30 per cent [meaning that it should cut out at least 30 per cent of the harsh UV [Ultra Violet rays], as that was all the Dubai Police would allow]. “
The man gave me giant clip-ons for the windows, like the sun glasses actors wore in films in the 1950s and as soon we clipped it on, it went jet-black inside in the car and there was a happy smile on the face of the driver.
Thankfully, the summer in Bengaluru is not as bad as in Dubai where the moment your stepped out of your home in August, your eyeglasses would fog up and expats would reassure themselves by saying, “It is not the heat, it is the humidity.”
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi