I belong to the south side of India, the southern Asian country, where the rains are not as frequent as the hot sun. But when it rains, it makes sure it does at night. I belong to a developing country, one of the most powerful emerging nations, where there are frequent power cuts due to the energy deficit. And when it goes off, it makes sure it does at night.
I have read most of the popular bedtime stories. Panchatantra by Vishnu Sharma, Aesop’s fables, Akbar & Birbal, Tenali Raman and likewise. These are mostly narrated or enacted by the grandparents to their grandchildren which are supposed to be soporific as well as a lesson of morality. The best bedtime story I ever like till today is sleep. Yes, you heard it right. To sleep within minutes after lying. I can assure that this would be the common like.
Both the rains with those cacophonous thunders and belligerent lightening and the power cuts with an eerie darkness and annoying silence can separately make us wonder why the hell it has to happen at night. But when these two combine, like they usually do, it turns out to be a night mare, an apt name.
Yesterday was one of many such days to come in this monsoon season. The chaos they cause due to their sudden onset is something to reflect till the next day night. It lasts till we get another good night’s sleep. The day was boiling at its peak temperature of 43 degree Celsius and just a few more degrees, it can open up a university to offer them. Those emergency lights, torches, candles, the visiris are at their usual place silently sleeping with deep layers of fine dust particles covering them. They haven’t been touched in a long time.
The randomness of the hall was as it always used to be. The presence of two new tube lights, though one always flickered a certain amount of time and needed a tap on its starter to get it started, made us careless. The chairs withdrawn from their place to somewhere near the television, the sofas moved due to the weight and the force of the person ensconced in them, those small coffee tables adjusted to suit our legs stretched from the comfort of the chairs or the sofas. It was completely random with a zero probability of locating their position.
It was around eleven when we all arrived at a decision to turn the lights off or rather our parents forced us to turn them off. I wasn't even past the first stage of sleep when the thuds made me groan in anger. I thought I was hearing it in some dream because it was not possible for a rain after a 43⁰C day. The hollering of the rain mocked me and yet I was not ready to give up. Definitely not in an 18⁰C air-conditioned atmosphere in the bedroom. The cacophony increased giving me a call to enjoy the rain. Damn it, the hands were about to strike midnight.
I should have woken up in that artificial pleasant temperature but my sub-conscious mind found it too pleasing to wake. Only later to find out sweat beads sliding down my face to my neck and it gathered around my neck causing discomfort. The electricity has failed. Thomas Alva Edison or Nicolas Tesla, whoever you are forming sides with, had failed. Contraptions! I have been a fan of them in Tom and Jerry, a global one and Aboorva Sagotharargal, a local one.
“Uch!” The very famous regional expression of irritation sounded from all the four of us in unison.
“Appa, check the fuses.” The box is located outside the front door in the parking space. The burning of fuses or the trippers tripping is not a strange phenomenon taking the overloading into consideration. My dad took his time to open his eyes from that deep sleep. He has this gift of my best bedtime story. Sleep within minutes. We are no pirates or pilots to adjust to the darkness immediately and it took time for him to locate the door. He worked his way to the lock and forced it open.
“Aaah! Who the hell put this table here on the way?” I figured it out from that first noise and it was me who did it to see a match yesterday night. I feigned sleeping inside the blanket ignoring the increasing temperature.
He reached the front door. The door opened with a screeching sound and he hollered for a light. My mom knew that I was awake and patted me to help my dad out. Cursing the rains and power cuts, I stood up to find the total place engulfed in darkness.
“This is going to be an adventure.” I thought. Same “dum!” but a different “Aah!” with an “a” less this time. This time it was a chair and I couldn’t curse no one except of course the rains and the power cuts for it was me again who put it there. I found the light and was surprised to see how quickly the forty plus changed to fifteen plus degrees. The street lights are getting their power from a different transformer and the neighbouring homes had batteries. There was no fuse burns and it was blatantly the power cut.
“Ma, call the electricity board!” It was my sister this time. My mom told we could wait for a few more minutes, may be fifteen. I waddled off to the kitchen to get some water and again “dum” and “aaah” repeated. It was the fridge in the other side of the house and from then on I spread my hands in an eagle-like position against the walls to move slowly.
We became desperate and the room was getting warmer. The emergency lights invited some insects and a couple of more degrees and I was like, “Sorry, no hospitality!” and turned it off. The Visiri search proved to be another adventure and this time it was my mom with same “dum!” and “Aah!” and a little curse. I wasn’t sure what it was that time.
The call to the electricity board always goes in one of the following three ways.
“The number you are trying to reach is speaking to someone else. Please try again later.” an amiable voice.
“There are people rectifying the fault now. It may come in an hour.” An abrupt response.
“Which area are you from again?” feigning an innocence.
I read the power cuts can be efficiently used as a family time and opened my mouth. My voice echoed and sounded like some devilish snarl and I was rightly given an award claiming me an “Amplifier” in my college farewell. I shut it tight and curses continued. After a long time, which seemed to be eternity, a small flick in the lights of the fuse, the power was back.
I was about to give a long sigh when I noticed it. “Low Voltage”. “Varum thambi, aana Varathu” range. It was looking akin a cadaverous old man tottering. 220 V is the voltage range in India and it’s normal to be around 180+. And it’s now 120+. If India is competing with United States in any sector, it is in the Potential difference, the voltage, though they are technically a little different. And the low voltage has never gone away without again shutting down the power and turning it on.
This was a 10 minutes to 30 minutes, at times an hour long process. And the AC would turn on, and the gush would make it feel like heaven and “Pat!” it went off. This continued on and on and on and on. When the power went off again, it was difficult not to be terrified whether it was for setting the right voltage or for the entire process to repeat. When everything got back normal, my parents told it was time for my sister to wake up for her college. I laughed slyly at her that I could get to sleep till I desire. When I woke up today, she already reached her college and there was no current again. The destiny has laughed slyly at me.