"Do you have candles at home?" our friend enquired.
Having said that, we sat down to watch the latest Batman offering, 'The Dark Knight Rises'. The previous day had seen us through seven hours of the power outage, followed by a whistling, airy sound from dry taps.
The day after, it happened again and we decided to seek the cool comfort of a cinema hall, after making sure their generator worked. When the electricity was finally restored, I read and answered concerned emails from across the globe and took a few calls from worried friends in south-western India. I'm sure the next edition of Time, Asian Age, Forbes and The Guardian are going to have a field day reporting on the "worst outage of the century."
The candles were there, unused for the past five years, thanks to an efficient inverter. The matchbox of extra-long sticks lay nestled, dry and fat-headed in a plastic bag. The old storm lantern was filled with kerosene and gave a warm glow.
We all had baths from buckets filled to the brim the previous night. Flushes worked due to the water tanks overhead. Though the ice-cream melted, there was cold water in the bottles. All this happened due to a constant state of preparedness in a country where inconstancy is the norm. And yes, because we cannot drink water from the tap, there were rows of bottles with filtered water on the kitchen platform.
It was a harrowing time for those on trains, in lifts, at airports and bus stations. In bastis and slums, top storeys and those depending on the municipal tap, two days of intermittent and often totally absent power, caused nightmarish conditions. I saw young mothers sitting under trees, fanning babies with straw fans. Men sat on benches, heads and necks covered with dripping towels cooled by the occasional breeze. And those whose fans did not work at night, slept in that age-old tradition on the roof on damp dhurees.
I'm not defending a shaky, inefficient system, only pointing out with pride the resilient and innovative Indian who can cope with any situation. A decade ago, a nephew in the US, wrote about an outage caused by a tripped grid in "far-off" Canada. It was hell shopping around for candles, torch cells, food, drinking water all of which were not stored at home, and suddenly seemed to vanish from the shelves in stores.
Passengers stuck in 700-odd electric trains on Black Monday must have had food and water in their bags. No self-respecting Indian travels without edibles that can survive adverse conditions for a week.
Matthis and achaar, paranthas, papads, kakras, choorma, besan sevian, kurkure, aam papad, namkeen, dry fruits, biscuits, sweets all travel on every journey, even if it is by plane. Half a kilogram of roasted peanuts and two 100-ml bottles of water are my staples as I traverse the continents. As Indians, we can never take anything for granted.
Perhaps there is a blessing in all this. We and our children adapt to any situation anywhere in the world. We "make do," and that is our greatest strength.