As the northern, eastern and north-eastern grids collapsed on Tuesday, there was utter chaos in the household of Ramu (name unchanged). The darkness that was the usual feature in the one-room shack after sundown was added by another layer of darkness, this time caused by the lack of electricity
in a house that lacked regular electricity in the first place.
If there was some relief in the fact that the weather wasn't too bad, Ramu couldn't help but be worried by the serious depletion of cold drinking water from none to even less than none in his non-existent refrigerator that would have, had it existed, been powerless for some hours now.
Some precaution had to be taken about bathing and washing water though. Ramu was fortunate that he and his family of four didn't live in one of those housing societies where after the generators run out of fuel, they sputter to a stop and having water in the bathroom and kitchen is no longer an option till the pump starts again when the electricity returns. He knew that a captive power plant in many of these buildings made such problems vanish. There would never ever be power cuts in these houses. But there could be power fluctuations that may affect equipment adversely.
And then there were those notices asking residents to use their air conditioners 'within limits'. That kind of talk struck Ramu not only as being humiliating but also unreasonable. Why would he have turned a second air conditioner off — if he had one or more air conditioners — if there was captive power and members of the family needed to cool off in the un-air conditioned heat? Frankly, this was like asking a fish to stop breathing through its gills just because there were other creatures that breathed through their lungs.
The one thing that deeply irritated all of the family was that the television in the corner of the shack had been off for more than three hours now. That alone was responsible for tempers rising. Ramu's son Govind had been grumbling because the nearest mall had turned its central air conditioning off. Ramu had tried to explain to his hot-headed teenage son that the air conditioning hadn't been switched off but had stopped working after a while. But try explaining things logically to youngsters these days. They all want everything simply because everything is available for everybody.
There was, however, one reason, why Ramu himself was irritated by the lack of television. How would he know that 'half of India' was reeling under a massive power outage if he didn't hear about it on TV? It was, after all, TV that had informed him that the northern region grid that provided power supply to nine states including Delhi had gone kaput at 2.35 am the day before, waking him and his wife Sharda two hours before their usual time. It was through TV later that day when the power was back for 40 minutes that he learnt that restoration work had started immediately on a 'war-footing'. It was thanks to this that priority areas like railways, the metro, airports and other essential loads had their power restored. It also confirmed India as one of the most go-getting 'Yes, we can!' nations on the upswing in the world.
Using the FM radio on his mobile phone the next day, Ramu learnt that the northern grid had collapsed for the second time in two days. Before his phone battery died, he was able to catch the news of the eastern and north-eastern transmission lines also failing, disrupting power supply in some 20-odd states. The radio mentioned some figure — was it 600 million or 60 million, he couldn't remember — that quantified the number of people who had been crippled by the 'world's biggest black out'. Thinking about the plight of these 600 or 60 million made Ramu shake his head.
But before Ramu and his family could seriously start worrying about what to do if electricity wasn't restored, the power came back. The ‘jugaad’ power line which they tapped into was live again. He quickly turned on the TV and watched with great interest and greater relief a television expert answer the key question: ‘Yeh Rahul Sharma, Rohit Sharma aur Manoj Tiwari ka silsila kya hai?’
Ramu's daughter, Rupa, two years younger than Govind, looked up and said, “What difference does it make, baba?” Ramu barked back, “Shut up when you don't understand things,” forgetting that the chance of him actually catching the Indian innings in Colombo was significantly slim even if the northern grid never ever was disrupted again.
And sure as pudding, the lights went out again in their house even as the rest of Delhi kept humming with uninhibited, throbbing power.
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