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How Do You Stay Cool In What's Quite Literally A Killer Heat Wave?

"It is unbelievable, sir."

That's how NPR contributor Wilbur Sargunaraj characterizes the heat that is gripping parts of his native India. "It's just getting worse and worse and worse, and people are suffering."

Temperatures are topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit in various parts of the country, including Tamil Nadu, the southeastern state where he grew up. The heat has claimed over 100 lives this spring. It's so hot that water that comes out of the tap, he says, is "almost boiling because the sun heats up the tanks on the roof."

The man who's been called "India's first YouTube star" has re-posted a video he made in 2014 showing that, yes, it gets so hot that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk.

Of course, it's no surprise to have heat in India. In Tamil Nadu, the month of May, says Sargunaraj, is known as "Agni Natchathiram." In the Tamil language that means "star fire." Temperatures can hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Only it's not even May yet.

In the villages of Tamil Nadu that Sargunaraj loves to visit, the "common people" are suffering, he says. People who do manual labor in the sun — working in agriculture, pulling loads on rickshaws, "have no respite from the sun, no air-conditioned room to cool off."

Which raises the question: How do people cool off? "For me I never had air conditioning at home growing up," says Sargunaraj. "At night we'd take a bucket of water and dump the whole bucket on the concrete floor so it cools down. And I slept on the floor, no blanket, no shirt — just a pillow and a fan running. The floor is wet for 20, 25 minutes and helped us cool down."

And then there's the umbrella. "People walk with an umbrella in broad daylight. It's super-hot, no rain clouds."

"What do you think?" he asks me.

"It looks a little silly," I venture.

Oh really? "On the beach you have a beach umbrella," he says. "We just have the black umbrella for the rain or for the sun."

Sargunaraj offered other cooling strategies. "When I'm at home in the village, I take a bath at least 3 times every day," he says. "You just step out and you are literally sweating from standing in the heat." He's also a fan of "moru" — an "ultracommon" buttermilk drink doctored up with curry leaves, salt and various spices.

And as his video shows, it really is hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk — although it took 45 minutes. Using the hood of a car would be faster, he guesses. He wanted to eat the egg, but his "aunty" in the video with him said, "Don't you dare!"

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.