Where’d the lights go?

I’m standing on my terrace when suddenly everything is swallowed by darkness. But still the math’s classes continue on the opposite terrace – the tutor seemingly unaware that students can no longer see the lesson he is presenting.

We’re without power for the 3rd or 4th time today. I can’t remember which. Power cuts have been happening more frequently and at sporadic time intervals. I’ve learned to boil the kettle before 7am when the power disappears for the first time for about 2 hours. Then I’m sure to put in a few good hours at work on my laptop to make the most of the morning power and a fully charged battery. The power usually cuts out again early afternoon and I’ll work until the battery indicator in the top right corner of the screen flashes red for a conveniently timed lunch break. Later in the afternoon I’ll wander to the guy selling tea at the corner – who by now knows I like my chai in a glass with no sugar – when I’m bored of working at 10% screen brightness and I’m threatened to save my work alas we’re forced into back-up battery mode.   

Back at home there’s not much I can’t do without the power - I can still complete my third-world washing workout (for better results I prefer to handwash to punk rock); my bucket shower feels a little more romantic to candlelight and the neighbours can’t see me hang out my washing on the terrace in the nude. Although I’ve thought about what would happen if the power suddenly comes back on so I make sure I’m back inside well before the strike of the hour when this is likely to happen.

Navigating my way up the two and a half flights of stairs in the dark has been an adventure when returning home during a blackout. Leaving in the darkness I don my trusty headtorch - quite pleased reflecting on the amount of times it’s paid to have had it stashed in my backpack; exploring abandoned asylums, navigating the to-be-discovered loot of a back-alley dumpster and navigating off a rock-climbing route we’ve started much too close to sunset. When I go downstairs the hostel ‘madam’ and her daughter crackup laughing, pulling the light from my head and take turns illuminating various objects as they pan their heads around the room – not yet aware of the necessity to keep your head down if you’re not wanting to blind someone.

In the streets people come out of their homes. They sit out front on the ground or their doorsteps if they have them. It’s usually too hot to be inside and the kitchen quickly becomes a sure-fire ‘no go zone’ without fan aided air circulation. Neighbours talk – mostly about family, familiar faces are greeted as they pass and the children continue to play until their mothers eventually coax them back to the house for dinner.

My neighbor seems a little more bothered by the lack of electricity. She asks me how I can sleep. I’m a little confused at first as to why I wouldn’t be able to sleep without power but come to understand that the trusty old pedestal fan is a sure way to a good night sleep undisturbed by heat and mosquitos. I’m glad I’ve grown accustomed to the heat and grin imagining my super-mosquito-net-setup back in my room.

I wander up the street to dine in one of my local haunts – a small concrete room, a quarter of the size of my bedroom, with a rolling garage door opening to the street. A candle, 4 stainless steel tumblers and a bucket of South Indian dahl are the only items to sit on the table in front of me. The place is modest with two plastic tables, the kind that occupy the surrounds of your local public swimming pool, and 8 matching plastic chairs. There’s a singular sink in the corner and a wooden table spaced far enough out from the wall for someone to stand behind. On it are 2 buckets of chutney – one coconut and one tomato – and an insulated container of steamed fermented lentil-rice flour cakes.

My dinner is served on a banana leaf – which I’m careful adhere to Tamil custom and rinse down with a little water first – and I eat with my right hand receiving an approving nod for my efforts. People come and go; buying banana leaf and newspaper wrapped parcels to take back home or preferring to sit in. The patrons are mostly male and sit on the table that I’m not occupying – it’s not customary for men and women to sit together. However, in the past I’m sure I’ve sat down next to a guy unaware of the social faux par I was making.

The fluorescent light tubes, affixed at the corners where the walls meet the roof, flash a few times before abruptly filling the space with a bland white light. It’s hardly a mood for enlightenment and suddenly a little of the slow-paced, power-out magic is lost.

Back at home I don’t turn the lights on, even though I can, preferring to opt for half a dozen candles instead. I retreat hastily to my mosquito-net fort with my current book ‘Namesake.’ Mispronouncing, phonetically as the Tamils would do, the first two weeks I had it. I don’t extinguish the candles - they’ll burn themselves out in a couple of hours when I’ve probably done the same.