It’s 11 in the morning on a weekday and the streets of Titlagarh are empty. Not even a stray dog in sight.
A small town of 60,000 people in western Odisha’s Bolangir district, Titlagarh is reeling under a blistering heatwave. The mercury touched 48.5 degrees Celsius on Sunday, the highest April temperature ever recorded in the state.
Titlagarh — which is locally known as Tatlagarh or sizzling place for being a heat island — ranks among the hottest places in the country. It recorded 50.1 degrees Celsius on June 3, 2003.
But the past weekend has been terrible even by the town’s high standard as an unrelenting heatwave is scorching Odisha. The state has recorded 99 deaths so far from sunstroke-related ailments.
“You can say there is an undeclared curfew in Titlagarh after 10am. If you go out, you are either a very brave person or you are an outsider,” local Congress member Upendra Bag said.
“Though summers are usually hot in Titlagarh, this time it feels like living in a furnace.”
People try to finish their chores by 10am, rush into their homes and venture out only after sundown at 6pm.
Inside their homes, people try everything they can to beat the heat: from switching on airconditioners, aircoolers and ceiling fans to having food that is traditionally believed to cool the body.
Airconditioners are giving up after the temperature shot past 45 degrees Celsius consistently in the past week.
“Although we have airconditioners in office, these are no match to the rising heat,” said Kailash Sahu, the sub-collector of Titlagarh.
To make things worse, power outages and low voltage are adding to the woes.
Journalist Dilip Purohit who has to go out on assignments during the day deploys an array of home remedies to avoid sunstrokes. “As soon as I leave bed at 5am, I sense the heat. By 9am it is unbearable and after 10am anyone out won’t be able to last long. Even when I go out, I tie a wet gamchha (towel) over my head and drink as much buttermilk and soft drinks as possible. The heat is blinding,” he said.
The standard food for the heat-harassed residents is “pakhala” — cooked rice normally soaked overnight in water — which is a popular dish in Odisha.
“Even Marwari people in our town who eat chapatti are subsisting on pakhala now,” said Sarat Mishra, a Titlagarh resident.
The baking sun has triggered a water crisis in the town, which is now increasingly recording long queues, frayed tempers and fights near supply taps and tankers. A junior engineer of the public health department was roughed up recently over a water tanker turning up late.
The town gets its water from the Tel river but that is hardly adequate. As the town sits on a rocky bed, groundwater is difficult to draw. “The groundwater level is falling over the years,” Mishra said.
Locals believe the Kumuda hill and a few other hillocks surrounding the town act as heat radiators, adding a few degrees more to the place.
As Titlagarh turns into a ghost town in daylight, all meetings, social events and even weddings are scheduled after nightfall. Bag, who heads an NGO, convened a meeting at 6 pm two days ago. “No one turned up before 8.30pm.”
The condition improved a little with the mercury dropping to 45.5 degrees Celsius on Tuesday.
The townsfolk have learnt to live with the heat, celebrating the summer sizzler in a popular music video some years ago.