Monday, September 4, 2017

When the lights went off




Bitti Sharma, the leading lady in the movie Bareilly Ki Barfi is an electricity complaint officer in small town, Bareilly. We see her answering every complaint call with a bored, “Asuvidha Ke Liye Khed Hai. Sare Shahar Ki Gayi Hai. Thodi Der Me Aa Jayegi”. 

Do you remember getting a similar indifferent, somewhat condescending reply? That is when the complaint officer decided to pick up the phone. If you persisted, they disconnected the phone before you could complete the sentence. And yet, calling the ‘electricity office’ provided some solace for the power starved soul.

For more than a decade, I have been fortunate enough to live in an apartment with power back up. It’s been so long that those sweaty moments are a blur, appearing occasionally as flashes during minutes between darkness and revving up of the generator. It would be na├»ve, even stupid of me to say that I miss my tryst with candles, mosquitoes and trickling sweat. 
Then why remember those harrowing times? One of the reasons behind hankering for old times is perhaps the simplicity and innocence of it all. It provides a respite from the obsessive digital life we live. Moreover, nostalgia  is said to soften the rough edges.

Remember the collective ‘Oohhs’ when the power went off and the collective ‘Aahhs’ when the Usha fan stirred and the Bajaj tubelight blinked? And the joy of idling? Doing nothing. At a time when we check Whatsapp mindlessly, those power breaks allowed an on the spot vacation. 
The kids would rush out in the courtyard (angan, most middle class houses had one) and the grumbling adults followed grudgingly. 
Phir Chali Gayi, Bataiye? 
There was nothing to batao. 
Checking if neighbours were also in the same boat was the first on the list. There was solace in numbers. Joy in collective suffering. With cane chairs in place, the courtyard was ready, amply splashed with water in anticipation of a customary power cut. It was time to catch a story from grandma or an anecdote from grandpa. Each story that granny excavated brought joy and giggles. Longer power cuts ended up in candle light dinners and defrosting the refrigerator before going to bed. Which basically meant - ice cream. 
‘Will miss Chitrahaar again’, someone would lament. It is amusing why we missed Chitrahaar for all it had was Salma Agha crooning ‘Dil Ke Arman’, Reena Roy in a black sharara (the dress has come back) singing ‘Sheesha Ho Ya Dil Ho’ or a black dog running after Jackie Shroff in Teri Meherbaniya. 

Those hours of darkness were also a time for the Man Ki Baat contraption - the transistor. It required turning and twisting to catch the signal (like Vodafone). Dad would hunch over for test match commentary by Jasdev Singh and grandpa for news - ‘This is All India Radio. The News read by Melville de Mellow.’
Power cut was a double edged sword. When the ‘home work’ was avoidable, it was a boon but when ‘home work’ was mandatory, it was a curse. My worst torment was to solve Chemistry numericals (damn that Avogadro number) under flickering candle lights and trickling sweat. 
Once it was past dinner time and folks began preening into their HMT watches, someone was asked to walk down the power station to find out the duration of the ordeal. ‘Cable burst. It’s going to be the entire night.’ Resigned to our fate, it was time to take out folding charpoys, mosquito nets, Odomos and doze off in spurts. Sleep. Grumble. Scratch, Sleep Grumble. Scratch. Sleep…..

In the years that passed, we hardened into adulthood, surrendered to smart phones and melted in metro life. Power cuts continued, albeit less frequently. But playing antakshari instead of playing a phone game, watching stars instead of phone pictures or engaging in a game of cards instead of reading tweets is perhaps too silly to be indulged in. The consuming need to stay in touch over the phone has overcome the joy of doing nothing. Moreover, we rarely see stars in Gurgaon apartments; all we see is flickering light of planes through the dust haze. 

In a country where 240 million people live without electricity, I am indeed blessed to have 24/7 power. But with great power, comes a greater electricity bill. With three times the normal electricity charges, the backup bill gives me an electricity shock every month. And yet, it is a lesser price to pay to avoid the agony of, “Asuvidha Ke Liye Khed Hai. Sare Shahar Ki Gayi Hai. Thodi Der Me Aa Jayegi”.





Image from here


25 comments:

  1. So wonderfully written. <3 took me back to the good old days. :D

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  2. I was super blessed. My mom was an Electricity Board employee and we lived in the official apartments. We never had power cuts. We craved for those moments to light a candle. The only place where I faced power cuts was in Noida and those were very systematic, from 1 to 3 in the afternoon on weekdays. I mean, I have never-ever witnessed this agony. Apart from when I was visiting relatives, but most were smart enough to pack their bags and head to our place during summers.

    Saru

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    1. Lucky girl indeed.
      Your blogger account still not showing, shows unknown?

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  3. You have replayed those days to precision right till that pricelessly innocuous quip loaded with consternation, reprimand and utter helplessness: Phir Chali gayi, Batayie? Great piece!

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  4. Ah the simple joys.This made me nostalgic

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  5. Alka, the joys of collective suffering :) I remember the power cuts when I was much younger. Life was indeed so much more simpler and easier. I was the best antakshri player in the family and everybody wanted me in their team :)Your nostalgic post took me back in those happy, tech free times. Thanks for the same.Enjoyed reading your post and loved the movie, Bareilly ki barfi

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    1. Thank you Sulekha. I loved the movie too.

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  6. I can relate with the every word written here, wonderful depiction of those days.

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  7. I am glad those days are behind us. The noise of the nearest transformer bursting would send chills down our spine.

    I recall a summer vacation when the power would go off unfailing the moment it was time to hit the bed. Our ordeal continued for over 10 days. Sweaty backs, bleary eyed, exhausted as hell..nope, there was nothing endearing about it.

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    1. 10days, phew! Bleary eyed, yes. And still went to school on time.

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  8. Beautiful post.It has kindled many fond memories.You have this knack of transporting me in a time-capsule.

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  9. This one made me smile. Took me back to the time when I used to actually look forward to power cuts. No power meant no more studying for the day because my mummy felt that eyes shouldn't be ever strained.

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  10. Beautiful one. I remembered the days when we used to wait for that half an hour of load shedding when our mom would leave us alone (instead of asking us to study) :D We had such a good time! 24 X 7 power is so boring !

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    1. Haha, but I wouldn't call it boring. It's a blessing given the extreme Delhi temperatures.
      Good to see you here.

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  11. Power would be out almost the entire night in my nana's house and we cursed like no tomorrow. Slept under the stars in a machardaani waali charpaaye and listened to stories by grandpa. The adults cursed more because we kids could still fall asleep easily. It was the same story every summer in the scorching heat of UP plains. Sigh! Brought back some not-so-fond memories.

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  12. Trust you to pen such a fabulous piece. The collective ooohs and aaahs used to be my favorite. Coming from a small city in UP, we had kerosene lamps and petromax. On top of which a good night may would help deal with mosquitoes. Alka, I'm so tempted to write about those days. Of days I say on a chair outside my house to let my hair dry. Really?

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  13. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful post Alka! Took me down memory lane! We had these especially trying power cuts in my native village where we went on all vacations, but still those are the best memories of childhood I still have. Aaa ab laut chalen....?

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  14. Haha. Lovely! This brought back so many memories.. Lived through some exactly similar times and moments. Interestingly as you mention, my husband and I still miss the power cuts. We told our son about those times and nostalgia kind of overcame the hardships and now we have a family time every weekend where we sit and talk with all the lights off..hehe

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