The electricity had been threatening all day. On sixth of January, even more than the weather itself, which had caused the outage in the first place. It was not until night came about that it started to snow. Quietly, as usual. The snow when I discovered it was less than two inches deep. We lost hope of electricity, at least till 11am of the next day – that is when the linemen usually make their errands. A recent post on this blog came to my mind, and I thought about writing this one.
There was no electricity so I had to write it with a pen on a diary, to be typed later. At breakfast the next day, that being seventh of January (and when I started writing this) the day which now appeared to be some sort of a ‘promised day’, news came that there was some fault with the Northern Grid. Since childhood, I have associated the word ‘fault’ with electricity failures. It always had had something to do with electricity. The reasons are not clear, not even to me.
With this intelligence the ‘promised day’ suddenly didn’t seem that promising at all. It may be two or three days, before we will see any electricity.
The first to be affected by the power failure was my cell phone. Not that it mattered a lot to me just then. Already on low battery due to cold, my phone died a quiet death soon after breakfast. Then slowly the epidemic spread onto other phones in the house, and all were afflicted in varying degrees.
In winters the days begin late, and end quite early and quite abruptly. By the time of Asr prayers we were well into making plans for spending the next two days, rather next two evenings, in darkness. But Santa Claus came to tell us that electricity was expected to restored by 6pm. He had heard the news in the market while sledging through it. That was two hours from then. Hurrah! Though not so much for the bijli department. They should have planned better.
Like the Wandering Jew of the lore, the bijli had reached some areas already. Lal Chowk, Srinagar’s main market, was one of them. Other areas would hopefully too follow. Do I sound like we live at the mercy of electricity department, with no other way to get on with our life? May be we actually do. Almost every year, the snow is expected. It is already announced a few days in advance, of course, as in every place which has a meteorological department, but every year which has a moderate snowfall the electricity never fails to disappoint. Kashmir is highly dependent on electricity during winters. Since fire wood is expensive and rarely available, and gas even dearer, electricity appears to be the cheaper option – subject to availability. Already there us a huge hue and cry about the skewed power balance between Kashmir and India – pun intended. One can see why Samad Joo was right in hating the snow, even though power failure was only one complaint on a long list of miseries.
The key to passing time without electricity is, I found, not to wait for it. The two hours passed and there was no sign of electricity yet. Quietly we carried on with daily chores. Eating. Reading. Hoping the water lasts because there was no chance of water supply without electricity. Praying that the invertor lasted till required and there’d be no need to bring out the candles and lighting gas. I admit to a particular fascination with both these items of lighting.
Candles transport one back to the delightful times of classic novels. Times when one need not have worried about it snowing on telephone wires, water supplies or electric wires. Hard life it was then, no doubt, but the books at least lend a sense of appreciation – a kind of poetry – to this weather, difficult as it may be and show that it, too, like all of God’s creation is not without its merit. The gaslight is something more personal. It was hugely popular in the 90s. That was before solar lights became the vogue. The gaslight was frequently the light of the highlights of the nineties – the crackdowns and searches, the late-evening-heart-stopping knocks at the door and the blackouts. Things which those of us who grew up in that terrible decade can never put out of their minds.
8, 9, 10. Finally it was 10. No electricity even then. Some folks called in to say that something was wrong in a certain grid station at Patnitop. I wondered if the rest of the city was having power-supply, say for just half-hour intervals, was that grid station only for our mohalla – I had never considered it to so special. By 11pm, after repeatedly wasted hopes, the patience of the whole household was running low. There was no water running and no way to get any. We were looking towards light bulbs like farmers looking skywards, awaiting rains. Desperate.
It wasn’t not cold. It was something beyond. A degree of temperature which escapes description. The water was so cold that it froze your hands and feet, no sooner had it touched them. Freezing cold. A variety of frozen water which was still, miraculously, liquid. It not just made your hands numb, it left them paralyzed. As if after washing your hands you left them there, and returned hand-less.
By breakfast time the casualties started streaming in. The first one to be reported was Nazir saebun zanan (Nazir Sahab’s wife) who had gone out in the morning to buy milk and bread. She had been promptly transported to the Bone and Joint Hospital at Barzullah. It later turned out that Nazir Sahab himself wasn’t that lucky either. He had gone to the rescue of his wife and in the effort slipped, and broken his wrists. Next to be reported was our neighbour, RB, whose ankles were in cast. Then another one came – a scooterist whose scooter’s tyres had skidded and he was almost killed.
At about 2pm, there were still no signs of light. The signs include occasional flickering – showing that something or someone is fiddling with something down somewhere, or once in a long while high voltage shocks to bulbs which fuse them off. But nothing happened. Nothing was happening. The power department with its many chief engineers was sleeping for all we cared.
The previous night I had predicted and announced with no small pomp, that electricity would be restored by midnight. That was wishful thinking. Optimism speaking not me. Then I had said the same about 3 am. But the miracle didn’t happen. After that I was pretty sure about 12 pm. But no. And then I reviewed my deadline for 3pm. At about quarter to three, I was communicating this to others in my house and listening to their power theories, when suddenly the lights flickered on. For a brief second we were stunned. It was finally here. At about 2:53 pm.
And that completed this part of the diary, even though the power had made just a cameo for half an hour.
PS: the newspapers in the coming days carried reports which made the two day power outage appear brief. As on 10 January, there are still areas which have no electricity. And of course, the water remains frozen.