AC (dis)Comfort

When using the AC is not all that cool...

August 11, 2017 03:38 pm | Updated 03:38 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

When the AC is not that cool!

When the AC is not that cool!

The car was as cold as a tomb, though how cold tombs are is a matter of speculation; there’s never been any first hand feedback about the exact temperature inside. But if it’s anything like an AC car, it must be freezing cold in there. “Brr! The AC,” I quavered, rubbing my hands.

“What’s it, madam? Temperature not right? Must I lower it?” the driver, probably fresh from an expedition to Antarctica, turned to ask, his tone chirpy. It cut no ice with me. “Please turn off the AC,” I requested, my voice hoarse. “And open the window.”

I was on my way to give a lecture and I didn’t want my voice, never in the contest-winning league at the best of times, to change into a croak. It might regale the audience and help them stay awake, but I wasn’t in the mood to find out.

The driver was aghast. Would any sane human ask for the AC to be switched off? Willis Carrier’s breakthrough invention in 1902, originally devised to protect magazine pages in a printing plant from crinkling through the action of moist air, had probably influenced the driver’s choice of profession. Air conditioning was to be enjoyed, lapped up, and luxuriated in, not to be switched off. He turned his head to give me a curious stare, then decided to give me an icy lecture.

“Do you think it’s wise, Madam?” he began. “The air outside is polluted, dusty. AC is so comfortable. And the traffic, the traffic! There’s no fresh air in our country any longer. Anyway, what’s the point in booking an AC car if you don’t want air conditioning?”

That stung. I tried to protest I had nothing to do with hiring the vehicle but he was in full flow and refused to listen. “It’s not good for the vehicle if the windows are open; the car will get dusty and dirty.” As an afterthought, he added, “”so will you.”

I was relieved when he fell silent and began fiddling with some knobs but instead of the AC being switched off, the radio was turned on. The radio jockey in her fake cheerful voice urged me in words that flowed like a torrent to look around and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. I looked around obediently, straight into the gleaming, bald head of the chilled out driver.

Do we really need the AC? My husband, being asthmatic, finds it difficult to bear the cold and often attends meetings as if he’s dressed for a Himalayan trek, sweater, muffler, monkey cap and all, some cotton tucked into his ears for good measure since the halls invariably have the AC set at 18 degrees. I don’t think our city has experienced 18 degrees since the retreat of the last Ice Age. Nobody cares about people who can’t bear the AC. How have we transformed ourselves into slaves of controlled temperature? Who takes joy in the changing seasons anymore?

No doubt AC helps in preserving artefacts, is necessary in certain manufacturing environments, hospitals, computer rooms, mines and places with searing temperatures, but do we require houses, work places and business establishments to have indiscriminate air conditioning? The number of parked vehicles that keep the AC on is appalling. All this contributes to climate change. The huge amounts of electricity wasted for air conditioning in a country which is power and water strapped smacks of irresponsibility. There seems to be little concern for carbon footprint here.

“The temperature is always 18 degrees for me,” an acquaintance had once stated with pride. There it was again, the magical number – 18. “I step from my AC house into my AC car and from it to my AC office.”

“Cool!” I had responded. “But wouldn’t the sun scorch you when you step out of your car to get into the office? Give you instant sunstroke, maybe?” He ignored my sarcasm and said, “not at all. The porch is shaded.”

I made myself heard over the jockey’s voice. ‘AC makes me queasy,’ I shrieked. It was the truth. Closed cars render me heavy-headed and sick. My assertion worked. A retching passenger is infinitely worse for the car than dust and the driver hurriedly obeyed me. He sped along, and I reached my destination in double quick time, dusty and dishevelled but pleased. I opened my mouth to thank him. Alas! No words came. The dust inhaled had completed the work the cold temperature of the car had begun and I had lost my voice.

A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series. She can be contacted at

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