'Phir chali gayi?' This is a phrase which broke the record in my house last week for being spoken the maximum number of times. The earlier record was predictably held by 'kuchh khaane ko hai?'Although in my unfortunate case, 'phir chali gayi' could also refer to the rapid frequency with which maids keep changing, but this time, it was about the more universal usage of there being no electricity, or as we usually say - 'light chali gayi'. Regardless of which political party or private firm claims credit, for the past few years, one had got used to life without much of load shedding. Even if it did during peak summers, the duration of it would be such that the inverter wouldn't let us feel the pinch.
But one day a few weeks back, God felt like showing who's the boss, and unleashed a storm that shook several human beings, objects and the shallow work of several departments, simultaneously. So, while for some lucky ones, the underwear drying out on the clothes' stand in the balcony was the only thing that flew away to unknown locations during the aandhi, for the others, it was also the wires hanging from the electricity poles. The net outcome, as we were told, was to have no electricity at home, at times for up to 12 hours a day, for 2-3 weeks till the department concerned was able to repair the damage. What followed was obvious outage, and outrage.
Ab yaar, aadat nahi rahi light jaane ki, and then it was so unbelievably hot. Sab pe gussa aaya - Sheila, Kejriwal, Ambani, Adani, Ramlal, you name it. Ramlal is the neighbourhood dhobi, but jab gussa aata hai, toh logic thoda dekhta hai. So one day this week, after sitting in the dark for five hours at night and cursing nearly the whole humanity, I decided to give some calmness gyan to myself. Cribbing and whining was anyway not generating electricity, so I thought of looking at the positive side effects of load shedding. Yeh mila mujhe...
For the first time in so many years, I was sitting in the balcony without a mobile phone in my hand. The phone's battery had died and so had the inverter for most homes. I was forced to look up... like actually look at the street, rather than look at the screen, that we mostly do all through the day. Kids were playing outside, perhaps only because they couldn't watch TV. I realised that they didn't know any of the outdoor games that we, as kids, used to play on the street when there was load shedding. Stapu, Pithu, Gallery... I don't even remember the names of some of the other games, but man, were they fun. I tried to hear, and these kids were talking about the IIFA awards. Their game was for someone to play Shahid Kapoor and someone else to be Farhan Akhtar and to enact the anchor's gig on-stage. This was fun too. At least they were out of the homes, and seeing faces instead of Facebook, for a change.
For the first time, I realised that there were several neighbours of mine who I hadn't ever seen or interacted with, notwithstanding Chaddha ji who was scratching his big belly in the balcony and keeping it, and us, entertained. Suddenly, the neighbours who would call the cops over parking fights every other day, were united in heat. There were heavy-duty debates going on across balconies about whether achhe din are ever going to arrive or not. Some of the busy ones had seen their own terrace after ages, and were suddenly enquiring from the maids about why they are not kept as clean as the others'. I realised the importance of knowing these human beings who live a few meters away from you, than being always connected through technology to those who are far away. In the event of a no-phones and no-Internet emergency, a shout-out to a friendly neighbour would work, not bothering to know them wouldn't.
For the first time, I wondered why when we were growing up, we could survive the same heat, but now neither us, nor the young generation of today, can do without ACs or coolers. It's not as if 20 years back the temperatures in these months were significantly lower. But it still didn't seem as if we will die if there was no fan for a few hours. But now we've made our bodies so dependent on ACs that we actually feel suffocated outside of controlled temperature. We'll go to a mall, check into a hotel, even sleep in the car - but no AC is no option. Well, that day, I heard people pray to all kinds of forgotten Gods ki thodi si hawa chal jaye. Also, for once, the good ol' sound of the colony watchman's danda going thak-thak won over the constant hum of air-conditioners. I also realised that candle light dinners sound romantic only in books or in 5-star restaurants. And that Chinese 'candle' where the flame is actually an electric bulb may look all fancy on Diwali, but what works during power cuts is an actual wax candle. Keep some handy, at home.
There was a sudden cheer when electricity was restored. The dark balconies were neglected and empty, yet again, as people rushed back to their familiar world of ACs, TV, and Facebook. Only Chaddha ji was heard a minute later, 'Oh yaar, phir chali gayi'.
Sonal Kalra was determined to stay the entire night without a fan or AC. When she fainted, the neighbours got her admitted to the AC ward of the nearby hospital. Mail her at email@example.com or facebook.com/sonalkalra13. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.