Monday, 8 November 2010

Path To Un-lightenment

Diwali’s four days away, the market’s buzzing with activity, parents are out shopping with their children, firecrackers and all; and I’m sitting here, writing on my laptop, that too on back up power.
Well, the answer’s absurdly simple! Power cuts.

Unlike many of the privileged people I know, I am a victim of M.S.E.B.’s very long legacy of power cuts, or load shedding, as we popularly call it here. My oldest memory of load shedding dates back to when I was six months old. Of course, I clearly do not remember facts as they were; but my mom and grand-mom never fail to remind me of those days. Sixteen hours plus of no electricity, I believe. The oldest memory I very clearly remember was when my grandmother used to use her authentic, vintage 1924 kerosene lamp (not exactly 1924, but, who knows?). We used to gather around the lamp on Friday evenings; since that was the day we had ‘mega load shedding’, and do absolutely nothing. My grandmother occasionally told me stories (ghost ones and otherwise), while my mom used to cut vegetables; I mean, light or no light, we had to eat, right?

After a few years, our problem eased a bit when my father bought a Honda generator. The procedure to switch it on was complicated no doubt: having to changeover from the mains, tweak half-a-dozen switches on the gen-set, and at a later stage (read late at night), getting out in complete darkness, at 10 in the night, to get petrol from a station in Ambernath (about 8 kms away). But, I confess, life was comfortable.
When the world outside is pitch black, two fans and tubes somehow manage to provide all the luxury in the world.

Oh, I forgot to mention the best part: the monsoons. In the beginning of June, when the skies darkened with the arrival of the South-West monsoon clouds, the generator would be primed up, readied for long hours of duty, the petrol can filled up; and as back up, candles and match-sticks were kept handy. Back in the days when we used the kerosene lamp (affectionately called ‘hurricane lamp’, for its obvious utility in times of hurricanes), preparations weren’t so elaborate. Yes, we had to add the hand-fan to the inventory list. Otherwise, it was just the same!

For some reason I don’t know, the rain gods felt very generous at times. Along with rainfall (and power-cuts), we used to get a good dose of thunderstorms. The power lines were the first casualties, innocent citizens the next.
Our woes, sadly or otherwise, didn’t end with the monsoons. The transformers once in a while gave a little ‘boom’…the aftermath was usually crowds gathering around the transformer, everyone yelling out for some action, responsibility etcetera amidst all that fiasco. Nothing like a blown transformer to promote solidarity in a housing society, I say!
But, if it was just your phase that blew, then you were on your own, and at the mercy of the technician. However, I do take the opportunity to say that some of them are fine people, the ones who’re in short supply.

Fast forward to the present, after years of living in darkness (more often, the in light powered by the inverter battery), I’m here writing about my woes. Not that I’m complaining or anything, in fact, I’m not! It’s just that, like all problems in out great nation, I have grown to live with it.

A couple of years ago, there was a lot of rejoicing among the people here when we heard that the Dhabol power-plant was reopening. Finally, we expected a concrete solution to our power problems. Sadly, by now, I think you know what happened…I mean, after knowing the tragedy of the Dhabol plant in the first place, I was not surprised to be disappointed.
Today, when I look at the newspapers talking about the Tata-Reliance tussle, tariff hikes and all that in the city, I give a cynical laugh. They’ll never know what it is like to be devoid of power, to live by the light of a kerosene lamp, to miss all your favourite TV programmes (even the re-runs), and how so many poor souls in hospitals have suffered. There are places in India where they have power for just two hours (or not at all); I don’t think I have a right to complain.
So, should I try to assert my consumer rights for equitable electricity? Maybe I should. But, where is that power going to come from? And more importantly, who’s gonna stand up for the kind of people I mentioned earlier. Power, water, health, they lack all the necessities we take for granted.
Sure, there are solutions; solar energy is one. But, I hardly think my neighbours are the kinds to afford it.

So, um, I think I should really stop writing; my laptop’s charge is dwindling. And I don’t expect the power to come in at least another two hours.
If nothing else, these long, dark hours have taught me patience, austerity and the value of enlightenment.
Or should I say ‘un-lightenment’…?