The worst of the heat might have receded from New York City but that’s not going to deter me from churning out another hot weather-related blog post. On this occasion, about a time when a combination of heat and a mysterious ailment combined to induce in me a misery that has, thankfully, not been rivaled since.
In 1979, I went on a schoolboys trip to a national park, one organized by my school. The trip was everything it was promised to be: though we missed out on spotting a tiger, we saw plenty of wildlife, swam in rivers, went on long hikes, and rounded off each day with a festive campfire. It was a boy’s dream; I loved every minute of it and was saddened by the dawning of its final days. Those entailed a long bus ride back home to New Delhi.
It was April, and the summer had settled in on North India. Daytime temperatures were already reaching into the high nineties (Fahrenheit) and past the hundred mark. The journey back, in a non-airconditioned bus, promised to be a trying experience. It soon acquired a terrifying new dimension.
For by its commencement, I had become sick. Perhaps a stomach bug of some sort, but though there was pain and churning aplenty in my belly, there were no frequent trips to the bathroom. Instead, I felt weak and nauseous, with a head that spun furiously. I told my companions; little interest or sympathy was forthcoming. I informed the master in charge; he seemed nonplussed. Tired, worn out, and to be honest, a little scared, I withdrew–unmedicated–to a seat by a window, and waited.
Our bus drove on, on roads that were sometimes narrow, sometimes bumpy, sometimes dusty, past field and village and town. As the day progressed, so did the heat and my discomfort. I kept the window open, hoping for a breeze or two, and sank into a sweat-lined heap at its base. I was sick, sick, sick; a bundle of desperate sensations, hoping for relief in any shape or form.
Toward the middle of the afternoon, we approached a scheduled halt. We would rest and partake of lunch in a park. My illness was now at a crest; I felt close to death, hideously miserable and discombobulated. I staggered out and took a few steps toward a shady spot beneath a tree.
And then, the miracle. I vomited spectacularly, bringing up a torrent of unprocessed material from my last meals. My company scattered, perhaps in fear, perhaps in awe. I swayed; my ability to stay on my feet still seemed in question. But a few seconds later, I felt better. The expulsion had, mysteriously and thankfully, possessed a cleansing quality.
A few minutes later, someone pressed a glass filled with crushed ice and a Coke into my hand. I drank it greedily–the sweetest nectar ever. I still had no appetite, but a cold, sweet drink was welcome.
Home was still several hours away, but for the rest of the drive home, though I still felt weak and exhausted, I was never as sick as I had been earlier in the day. I reached my destination at night, back into the arms of my concerned mother and a bemused father.
I still do not know what had afflicted me that day. And I still continue to hope that I will never, ever, approach the desperate depths of discomfort attained that day via a toxic combination of head-spinning nausea and heat.