Let me start with a little story. My colleague Manish Tiwari’s father visited him this week. Mr Tiwari senior lives in Ajmer and doesn’t get to meet his son very often. This was, therefore, a long-awaited reunion. He arrived at 11 pm after a hot and hard day’s journey. But the visit was anything but happy. The reason: 40 minutes after Mr Tiwari reached Manish’s home, the lights failed.
“What’s this?” he asked his son. Apparently the power doesn’t fail in Ajmer. Consequently power cuts in the middle of a sweltering summer night are not something Mr Tiwari had anticipated — and certainly not in the grand and powerful capital of India.
Unfortunately, what Mr Tiwari experienced was not a single power cut but the start of a series. As Manish explained: “The lights stayed off for over an hour. They returned around half-past midnight but went again just after 1 am. And, thereafter, there were no lights at all.”
On his first night in the national capital Mr Tiwari enjoyed the lights for barely two hours. Unaccustomed to this, he hardly slept. However, confident that it was a rare occurrence, he asked Manish the next morning if this had happened before.
“Oh yes, Papa,” Manish replied cheerfully. “This happens all the time. You’ll see that during the day it will keep going off and, if we’re unlucky, it could happen again at night.”
As Manish later told me, he was simply being truthful. Anyone who lives in Delhi would have accepted his prediction without demur or anxiety. But not his father. Ajmer and its uninterrupted supply of electricity have given Mr Tiwari very different expectations.
As you might have expected, Manish was right. When he returned home from office he found that his father had spent the day sweating. There had been more hours without power than with it.
“I’ll get an inverter,” Manish suggested. Understandably he felt guilty and responsible for the trauma his father had been through.
“Not a bad idea,” his father responded, “but I’ve a better one. I’m returning to Ajmer tomorrow. Delhi is not a city for human habitation. Ajmer may be small and far away but at least things work and we live comfortably.”
How true is Mr Tiwari’s comment on our capital city. Ordinary humans literally groan and moan through the summer months. In fact, their frustration and anger is the only remedy they have. But it all falls on deaf ears. At best the power supply is erratic. The rest of the time you have to cool down by ventilating your rage. Exhaustion leads to resignation and, finally, acceptance. Until the cycle starts all over again!
“I wonder what happens at the homes of Sheila Dikshit, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi? Do the lights fail there?” It was a rhetorical question that I put to A.B. Bardhan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India. We’d just finished an interview and the lights had failed again.
“Don’t be stupid,” he shot back, perplexed that I could be so naïve. “They’ve probably got special connections. I bet their lights never fail but if they do they’ve got standby generators which switch on automatically. So they probably don’t know the difference.”
And guess who pays for these special connections and automatic generators? You and I, from our taxes — but, of course, they’re not available to us. Our money ensures that these grandees live in cool comfort whilst we fret and fume in the relentless heat.
Now, just for a moment, let’s suppose the PM and the CM did not have special connections and automatic generators. Let’s suppose that their power supply failed — as ours does, and as often — and they have to sweat it out. What do you think would happen?
Very simple. The lights wouldn’t fail. Because if they have to suffer as we do they’d ensure that the power situation was rectified — and expeditiously! No doubt they’d do it to help themselves but all of us would benefit as well.
So, tell me, could this be the answer to Delhi’s power problem? The alternative of packing up and setting off for Ajmer is a trifle more difficult.