Air conditioning is the most common indicator of social status in the third world. Your degree of access to an air conditioned environments indicates how close (or far away) you are to the vast underclass of permanent poverty. Mosim Hamid‘s masterpiece “Moth Smoke” brilliantly describes this divide as the separation of the “cooled” elite from the “uncooled” masses. This divide is part of life in the third world to the point most people don’t realise it. Sri Lanka is no exception.
At the broadest level, air conditioning in the third world is an act of defiance. It is a controlled cocoon of comfort from the chaos, pollution and poverty of the “out side”. Access to it mean you move in the world of resources and wealth that can afford the electricity or the gas to stay cool.
The cooled and the uncooled meet everyday in traffic. The later sardined and boiling in the bus up ahead. Trapped on the road with you on the evening commute. Waiting for the traffic to move another centimetre. The uncooled on motorcycles try to wiggle through the gaps. With a handkerchief over the face to avoid inhaling smog. Wife holding the baby on the rear seat. Sandwiched in the middle is the eldest still in his/her school uniform.
Inside the cocoons of the cooled the air is dry, the Celsius in the upper twenties. There’s Nusrat (please don’t tell me its remixed) or YFM in the speakers. Interrupted (hopefully not too frequently) by a news flash about a bomb blast. A perfectly mixed eggplant martini floats effortlessly in the anti gravity cup holder. Even if your chariot is a much dinged Maruti it air-conditioning will make it feels like an Aston Martin.
Naturally the world of the cooled has an internal hierarchy. I will make the reckless assumption that most of the Sri Lankan blogoshere’s inhabitants can find places within it. Your place in this pyramid is defined by intersecting factors. What those are, and the stratification they create, will have to wait for another post.
In other words, to be continued…