Appa, when will the power come?” I would have asked my dad for the 100th time. Yet, he would patiently cajole me into believing that in any minute the electricity would bless our homes. This was in the 90s. We would lose power occasionally and if it ever happened in the night, the whole family would sit outside in the verandah, where the gentle breeze would caress our eyes bulging with slumber. We would resort to playing charades, antakshari or 20 questions. When we got restless my dad would walk to the Electricity Board office accompanied by some neighbors and enquire about the situation. They were always forgiving of the line men and made excuses for them. Very rarely would we lose power for the entire night.
Then came a time when I would browse through The Hindu frantically to verify if our area was listed as part of the doomed ones. The 9.00am to 5.00pm lights out zone. When it was not, I would break into a victory dance, much to the annoyance of the maid who would be indifferent to the whole electricity situation. Mega Serials were not her main focus back then.
After a hiatus of about five years I was stuck without electricity for an entire day. Last year we had a terrible snow storm. Nor’easter wreaked havoc in the state of Connecticut. Nature dumped 16 inches of snow and branches snapped from the weight of the leaves and snow. When they fell they bought down the power lines as well. It was bad timing. The county elections were just round the corner and entire cities had lost power. The utilities company went to work tirelessly and the mayor called us every day to keep us updated on the restoration work. There were shelters opened up for old people and folks who did not have alternative facilities. Friends and family flocked together for about a week until normality resumed. We cursed the storm for a week but since we had enough notice we had prepared ourselves for the onslaught. Within a week’s time we were back to our routines with unlimited power, hot water at a moment’s notice and heaters comforting us with warm air.
While I sat back in comfort, India was reeling under the burden of massive developments. Chennai as a city had spread its ugly wings beyond boundaries and the Government had no foresight for resources or infrastructure. Apartments were rising up all around and crowding the skylines. Industries and software giants were opening shops at every street corner. The city was twitching and twirling and then came the massive collapse. The government announced power cuts for about 12 hours in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Although this was not a continuous span, it made me wonder whether India was really moving forward. Water was a scarce resource, even with rain water harvesting and borewells, Tamil Nadu could never sustain the growth. We had resigned to drinking salt water or distilled water from cans. The once calming sea breeze was contaminated with smoke and fumes. My beautiful Chennai had morphed into this ugly city with nothing but cacophony and concrete to boast off. And finally the city was wrapped in a blanket of eternal darkness.
A week without power had sent officials into overdrive in Connecticut, whereas, months without power have done nothing to the local municipal bodies in Chennai. While my parents have calmly worked their schedules around the loss of power, I wonder how much more would they have to endure before the Government wakes up to do its work. Talks of a nuclear power plant being the only solution are reigning high but shouldn’t the government have foreseen these demands? Isn’t it part of their job profile? While my mother calmly fans herself through the heat wave, we will switch on our air conditioners and watch Americans sun bathe.