Friday, March 16, 2007

The Silver Lining in Power Cuts

And the earth was without form, and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep. -- Genesis 1.2

IT IS front page news when there is a power outage in the Big Apple or in London. The suffering the commuters undergo when the power failure catches them by surprise is narrated in reams of paper. But we belong to a different stock and take a stoic view of things.

We see a silver lining in every cloud: the fact that one can predict when power will fail on a particular day, thanks to the existence of a schedule according to which power cuts are imposed in different localities, is a blessing, concede many. As a result, while at home, we do not have to scurry around in search of candles, for we keep our emergency lights ready, says a housewife. We can also plan our evenings accordingly, avoiding visits to localities when they are on the power off mode.

Some overcome the adversity by purchasing a genset or an inverter, an option not open to many. What do the vast majority who have no choice but to grin and bear it do?

Power cut does have a positive side too, as young Dr Pillai whose wife too is in the medical profession would vouchsafe. Their six-year old Rina had attention deficit hyperactive disorder. The reason: the parents, busy in their own professions, had not been spending quality time with their only child. Power cuts have done the trick: thanks to the power cut, the doctor couple are compelled to take a forced break from the consultation rooms. They spend a few light moments with Rina who is now back to her old self.

To the ilk that believes that power cuts can make you philosophical belongs small-time poet Vijayan. You utilise the time to ponder over existentialist problems, consider the riddles of nature and generally mull over issues that defy solution.

Joseph, a senior executive working in the administrative office of an insurance company used to late hours in the office takes a well-deserved break during the dark hours. He walks down the stairs and ambles along the sidewalk. `It gives me an opportunity to take stock of the situation, review the day's work and plan the next day's forays. 'People use the time for activities which do not need electrical energy. Uma uses the half hour fruitfully to practise on the veena. Power cuts have interfered, though only slightly, with the routine of John. A middle-aged executive, he usually spends most of the evening with his library books. Nowadays he has his `power nap for exactly 29 minutes', he says.

Power cuts have brought the family together, says Aliyar. As soon as he returned from office, he would turn a couch potato, with his wife joining him soon, after making the preparations for cooking the dinner. The children would be in their room with the homework. The only time the family was together was at the dining table. Power cuts have changed all that. The TV is off, the children cannot read and now a pattern has emerged: the kids would huddle around the father who would talk to them about everything under the sun.

Essential lighting is provided by the inverter in the district sales office of the large corporate citizen, but the boss-man chooses not to work in such light, says Sheela, his secretary. He has instructed her to schedule all his telephone calls to his dealers and sales force for that half an hour.

A variation of this pattern is seen in the regional office of a private bank in the city. There is a genset, but its rating supports just the service lighting and a couple of ceiling fans. About five minutes before the area plunges into darkness, preparations begin to shut down the computers. As soon as the genset takes over the power supply, the key functionaries assemble in the conference hall adjoining the Regional Manager's room. For the next half an hour, they discuss development of business, intensifying the recovery process and enhancing profitability. `We are so used to power cuts that on the stray weekday when there is no power cut, we are pleasantly surprised,' says a city resident. `This is so, particularly when it happens on days which are not well-known festive days like Vishu, Bakrid, Onam, etc.' chimes his wife. She sees the puzzled look and elaborates, `Like last Saturday when there was no power cut because the next day was the Pulse Polio Sunday.' `And the week before the SSLC examinations,' adds their teenage daughter.

When electricity cuts are rare in several other states, why is it that it has come to stay in our state? What exactly is wrong with our power supply? A keen observer of the situation can see that the problem is not in generation but in the distribution. Does one foresee an end to the crisis? Not in the near future. Will corporatisation of the Electricity Board prove to be the magic wand? One tends to be pessimistic: `Hardly, for it is the same old people who will be doing the work in the same old way they are used to.'

So folks, brace up for continued darkness on the horizon....

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