Postcard from India: Hot, Hotter, and Hottest

The entrance to Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Raj, my autorickshaw driver, or my automan as everyone here calls him, drops me off at the front of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The guard is perplexed by me. Standing in the midst of a group of tourists and pilgrims checking their shoes across the street, I look strange holding out my letter of invitation. I’ve come to the wrong door. 

Raj hasn’t pulled away though. He hops out and intervenes. He grabs the letter and confers quietly with the guard in Tamil. Another man comes over to look over the letter. He hands it back to Raj and gestures to a building on the other side of the street. “That door,” he says.

It is difficult to get an invitation to the Ashram. It appears to be a difficult to use an invitation also. I’m grateful to know Raj.

Through the gate in the ashram-gray wall I enter the Sri Aurobindo International Centre for Education. The “NO PHOTOGRAPHS” sign greets me before I even notice the necessity for the sign. Everything is beautiful. Large library windows, stone paths, a white lotus fountain surrounded by thick climbing vines. There is no sign to guide me to the office, but I’m happy to wander.

I find it. Imagine a film set: polished dark wood, swooping ceiling fans, marble floors. I wait as the receptionist makes efforts to find the teacher with whom I have an appointment. Mr. Sircar has been teaching literature at the ashram school for more than sixty years. When another teacher arrives to guide me, she explains, he’s in his apartment and we will walk.

Back out the white gate, past the ashram-gray walls, we walk. In just one block, sweat pours off me. She says, “You must be very hot?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’m more used to below zero.”

She glances at my forehead and asks, “Do you have a hat?”

“I’m alright,” I say, imagining what I must look like, dripping sweat, always shifting my dupatta around. I wonder how far the walk will be.

She tells me, “Here we say we have three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest. There is no winter.”

“This is only hot to you?” I ask. Yes, she confirms, it is only hot.

This fall as it got colder the reading tutor at our school told us she was cold. She had come from Georgia a few months before. “It’s not even cold yet,” we told her, laughing and smiling, and launched into a few stories of how cold it really gets. After more than 20 years, I recall the feeling of being a new Alaskan. The hot of India takes me to the moment I began to learn about cold.

And for my girls, India is the place they are leaning for the first time to live with hot. This afternoon, the 11-year-old said, “I really miss freezing my butt off.” She wrote an email to a friend admitting that she even missed her snow pants.