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Mind over matter?

columns Updated: Jun 05, 2011 17:18 IST
Karan Thapar
Karan Thapar
Hindustan Times
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You might find this hard to believe, but I feel the cold far more in Delhi than in London. I’ve just got back after spending New Year there and I’m freezing. In fact, I returned on a cold bleak morning when the temperature was barely 3.7 degree Celsius. Even with a cashmere overcoat and scarf I was shivering as I stepped out of the airport.

London, on the other hand, was far colder. The minimum temperature was below zero. Yet it felt warmer and I was always snug. The difference is not just central heating or the architecture and furnishings, though they do matter and play a significant role, but one’s attitude of mind.

Now I’m aware this sounds both far too general and vague and yet also far too specific and narrow. But the truth is how you feel is a condition of how you think you are going to feel and also how you intend to respond to an anticipated situation. At least when it comes to the temperature — and this applies as much to excessive heat as it does to bone-chilling cold — we’re victims of our own mental programming.

Let me explain what I mean. “Why are you going to London when the place is frozen over?” was the first response I got when I told friends I was departing. The big freeze in Europe was headline news and Heathrow had only just re-opened. The mere thought of the place made everyone shiver.

Why did that not happen with me? Because having lived half my life there I knew from experience that indoors I’d always be warm and outdoors I’d be well wrapped-up. The temperature only determines how much you put on and how frequently or for what purposes you venture out.

In reverse, news that the maximum temperature in Delhi had fallen to 12 degree made me shudder as I contemplated my return. It didn’t matter that this was four times warmer than the maximum in London or that Britain won’t experience such warmth till spring. My response was conditioned by my memory of cold marble floors, chilly drafts that blow past shut doors and geysers that never really produce boiling hot water because the power keeps failing.

I expected to be cold in Delhi and that’s exactly how I felt once I got back. A point that was further rubbed-in by the first comment made by practically everyone I met. “Isn’t it freezing?” and the question itself made my teeth chatter!

To prove my case try the reverse. Think for a moment of Delhi in May or June, with the temperature touching 1050 Fahrenheit and the hot, gritty loo blowing outside whilst your air-conditioner — if you have one — struggles to keep your home cool. For a moment or so it could be a welcome antidote to the present winter chill. But soon memories of summer will make you dread the thought. Summer in the plains of northern India is unbearable not just because it’s hot but also because you know you will be uncomfortable and miserable.

The truth is your anticipation of heat or cold ensures that you will feel the heat or the cold. Conversely, if you don’t think about it — or, rather, fret about it — you won’t feel it as much. In a very real sense you can control or, at least, limit how the temperature affects you.

Of course, it’s not all in the mind. Temperatures do matter. But how much depends on you.

*The views expressed by the author are personal