The function of a punka is to cause a current of air to pass the human body so that the animal heat may escape more rapidly. This has nothing to do with ventilation; for if the punka were used in a closed room, it would still produce a cooling effect on the skin.

Let us for a moment examine into what takes place in this operation, for a clear idea of the cause of our sensations of heat is absolutely necessary to enable us to go directly to the simplest and best form of remedy. The heat we feel, and which sometimes renders us uncomfortable, is produced within us by the slow combustion of the food we eat.

This heat continues to escape from the whole surface of the body during the whole lifetime, and if anything occurs to arrest it to any great extent, the result is fatal.

In cold weather, and especially when there is much wind, the animal heat escapes very rapidly from the body, and extra clothing is used, not for any heat it imparts, but simply because it interrupts the escape of the heat, and thus maintains the temperature of the skin - that part of us which is most sensible of change of temperature. It is a wonderful fact that the heat of the interior of the body varies very little in a healthy man between India and Greenland.

The skin may bear a good many degrees of change of temperature with impunity, but the blood will only suffer a very small variation from the normal temperature of 98-4/10° Fahrenheit without serious consequences.

Well, to keep the skin at an agreeable temperature in India we generally wear a minimum of clothing, and when there is no breeze, we try to produce one with the punka.

The escape of animal heat from the body forms a subject which is much more complicated, and much more important, than the one we have met to consider, but it is impossible within the limits of our time to refer to it, except in the measure that is strictly necessary to elucidate the principles that should control the construction of the punka.

It has often been said that every engineer on his arrival in India sets about improving this useful apparatus; but if we may judge from the endless variety of forms which may be seen in shops and offices, in public and in private buildings, no general principle of construction has been recognized, and the punka, as we see it, seems to depend, for its form, more upon the taste of the workman who makes it than on anything else.

We shall begin by directing our attention to the suspended punka, which is usually hung from the ceiling, and put in movement by a cord. The object of this class of punka is to produce a downward current of air by swinging to and fro, and the best punka is the one which throws downward the greatest quantity of air with the smallest applied force.

The swinging punka is one of the simplest forms of mechanism; it can be fitted up with the most primitive materials, and however badly made, it will always have some effect. This fact has its good and its bad aspects; it brings a certain comfort within the reach of all, but it removes a great part of that necessity which, as we all know, is the mother of invention.

There are some very important natural laws which are illustrated in the punka. The first is that which governs the movement of the pendulum. The number of swings it makes per minute depends on the length of the suspending cords; a pendulum three feet long will swing 62½ times per minute, and a pendulum six feet long will swing 44¼ times per minute. Whether the swings are long ones or short ones, the number per minute is still the same. You cannot, therefore, alter the natural rate of movement of a punka unless you pull it at both sides.

The next law is that which determines that the angles of incidence and of reflection are equal. This in simple language means that it is useless to expect a good downward current of air from a slow moving and heavy punka, with long suspending cords which keep it nearly always in a vertical position to its plane of movement. Striking the air squarely as it does in its forward and backward movement, it throws almost as much air upward as downward, and of course all the air that is propelled in any other than a downward direction represents just so much power wasted.

One more law, and then we may proceed to demonstration.

As the air weighs 0.072 lb. per cubic foot at 82° Fahrenheit, and as a considerable quantity of air is put in motion, the power required to drive a punka depends upon the quantity of air it puts in motion in a given time.

The useful effect is a separate matter; it depends on the amount of air thrown in a downward direction.

To summarize; all punkas of the same size or surface, and going at the same speed, require the same amount of pulling. The best one is that which will throw down more air than any other of the same size.

To obtain the greatest result from the power expended in driving it, the punka should be placed as near as possible to the person to be cooled, as the loss of effect, due to distance, increases not in direct ratio, but in proportion to the square of the distance between punka and person. If at two feet of distance he receives one eighth of the total effect, he will at four feet of distance obtain only one thirty-second part.

In practice, the punka should just clear his head when standing, and the weighting of the curtain should be of some yielding material, so as not to damage any person who might stand in its course.

We shall now proceed to examine several forms of punka, all made to the same size, and, for purposes of comparison, we shall drive them all at the same speed. And in order that their effects may be visible to you, I have prepared an indicator which resembles more than anything else the keyboard of a piano. It consists of a series of balanced levers with blades or keys attached, forming a keyboard four feet long. The levers, each three feet long, are delicately hung on fine brass centers, and each lever is counterbalanced by a weight hung in a vessel of water, which acts as a hydraulic brake, and checks any spasmodic movement in the apparatus.

On the end of each blade is fixed a disk of white Bristol board four inches in diameter, forming a row which faces the audience.

This apparatus is so sensitive that a slight change in the humidity of the atmosphere is sufficient to throw it out of balance.

The power required to drive a punka is nearly all due to the resistance of the air; that part due to the force of gravity, and the friction of the suspending joints, is scarcely worth counting. We may readily observe the effect of the resistance of the air by swinging two pendulums of equal length and having each a large cardboard disk attached. One of the disks shall present its edge to the line of movement, and the other its face.

Exp. 1. - They are now swinging, and being both of the same gravity length, they should swing together and for an equal length of time. This they would do in a vacuum, but you have already observed that one of them is lagging, and will evidently soon come to a standstill. It is the one facing the air.

If punkas were pulled from both sides, they might be made very much lighter than they are at present, but for the sake of simplicity a single pull is preferred. They must, therefore, be made of such a weight that they will swing nearly as far on the opposite side as they are pulled on the near side; any greater weight is useless and only serves to wear out the suspending cords, which, by the way, are nearly always too numerous and too thick for their purpose.

Exp. 2. - Here is a panel punka which we shall try to use without the customary swing bar. It is of calico stretched on a light wooden frame, and you will be able to judge if it swings equally on each side of the post which supports it. The irregularity of its movement shows that it is too light, so we shall add, by way of swing bar, a bar of round iron one and a quarter inch thick.

Exp. 3. - It is now swinging regularly, and experiments have already proved that the swing bar should not be lighter than this one, which weighs four and a sixth lb. per foot of length. Iron is the best material for this purpose, as it offers the smallest surface to the resistance of the air. The length of the suspending cords is usually a matter of accident in the construction of a punka, but a little attention to the subject will soon convince us that it is one of the most important considerations.

The limit of movement of a punka is to be found in the man who pulls it. Twenty-four pulls a minute of a length of 36 inches give in practice a speed of 168 linear feet to the punka curtain. This speed is found to produce a current sufficiently rapid for practical purposes, and twenty-four pulls or beats per minute correspond to a length of suspending cord of fifty inches.

[1]Extract from a lecture recently delivered at Bombay.