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Fight the dark forces

india Updated: Apr 29, 2010 22:19 IST
Srijana Mitra Das
Srijana Mitra Das
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Amid the frenzied welcomes recently greeting newly-married Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik in Pakistan, there came an intriguing remark. Malik’s brother-in-law reportedly stated, “If the government wants us to celebrate in the dark, we’ll do so.”

The comment illuminates an area of ire in Pakistan. The country is suffering from a severe power crisis that has hit governmental, social and private realms hard. Some regions are undergoing power outages up to 18 hours a day, with business slow-downs and angry protests.

Electricity generation in Pakistan currently equals 10,300 megawatts daily while national demand is 17,000 megawatts. A host of ‘crisis measures’ have been introduced to plug a gap of over 6,000 megawatts. These include load-shedding for homes and offices, a shortened five-day week, early closure of shops, curbed power supply to street lighting, agriculture and industries and restricting marriage activities to three hours a day.

Despite their aim of power-saving, the measures have not met with uniform popularity. The dissonances emerging shed light upon fissures that cut across Pakistan’s polity. While Lahore traders agree to close shops by 8 pm, Karachi traders reject the proposal. They cite the authorities’ failure to provide power during the day, pointing towards private generators that keep business going despite load-shedding. Power supply to Karachi from the national grid has been slashed by 300 megawatts. Additional generation using oil is being planned. However, traders in Pakistan’s commercial capital are not happy to stand by in the dark meanwhile.

Things aren’t peachy in Lahore either. In addition to the time-curbs on wedding venues, the Punjab government has imposed an ‘austerity’ measure of ‘one-dish’ to be served at marriage parties. For food-loving Lahoris, this is deeply troubling. Weddings in Lahore are cuisine events, dishes from around the world showcased alongside Punjabi favourites. Mountains of kebabs stand by fountains of chocolate and hills of fruit. Stalls feature spicy chaat, cooling sweets, Arabian, Oriental and European delicacies with rich biryanis, paya and nihari. There are even a few vegetarian offerings (like palak-gosht) amid the rivers of fish and tandoors of bread abounding at Lahore weddings.

Imagine Shoaib Malik’s consternation then, having transported Sania and the in-laws from the feasts of Hyderabad, to be allowed only a simple chicken curry at his wedding function in Lahore. To be given no additional time or lighting either might have got Malik’s goat.

Interestingly, lessons from Pakistan’s power crisis can be learned by India too. Smarting from shared heat and power failures, Indians and Pakistanis should consider how desperately our region needs to develop power sources alternative to hydroelectricity. It is blazingly obvious we have enough solar energy to harness; if we could tear ourselves away from developing the latest in missiles, perhaps we could make something useful instead.

Another lesson lies in how we continue thinking of power as a predominantly middle-class experience. Both countries bemoan the pressure on inverters and diesel-run generators but few accounts explore the world of the poor who enjoy extraordinarily little power to begin or end with. Nationhood, more than a celebration of sameness or an exposition of ideals, is about empathising with difference. It might be refreshing for a middle-class householder to not obsess over her inverter during the next power cut but consider her rural equivalents.

For developing nations, sharing experiences and according dignity to those who have less rather than more are as essential as the enjoyment of resources. While India and Pakistan both negotiate this, there is one more lesson we might learn from them; how to do the bhangra in the dark.

Srijana Mitra Das is a social anthropologist. The views expressed by the author are personal.