31 July 2012


The news from India this week (Monday and Tuesday, July 30 and 31) suggests, demands even, a comment about electrical power.

One week after our return home, what we experienced in Varanasi as a seemingly random and local expectation that each day (several times a day) we would lose electrical power, is shown to be truly a minor inconvenience. This week the whole northern part of the country has twice gone without power, affecting more people than the entire populations of the US and Canada.

Read about it here or see it here.

Our own experience made us American suburbanites annoyed, then resigned, and finally amused. Our guest house kept a generator in the street outside the entry gate, and our host was quick to fire it up as needed. It was often needed. Brad and I began to predict when we would lose power, as a building behind ours, across the little Assi River, also had a generator, and we realized that within 10 minutes of hearing that one, we would lose electricity. Then our generator would go on.

When the grid power went out, our guest house rooms were variously affected. Not all the rooms were equally served by the generator. In our room (2 adult males), only a single light fixture was active. No fan, no bathroom light, no A/C. However, some of the rooms would get A/C with the generator. None of this mattered at all during the days, when we were out and about in Varanasi. It was at night, in the warm, humid, windless nights, that we "suffered."

Complicating the comfort factor were our glassless, shuttered windows. Hard to keep the shutters open, with the building behind challenging our American sense of privacy. Not to mention, bugs? Without a fan and without A/C, that room got a little thick. But we had come expecting to sleep in the heat, so all in all it proved bearable. And, as I say, once we accepted temporary power outages as a fact of life, we could roll with it.

But now this news from India has a human face to it. The areas affected include the 2 cities we were in. Delhi's fabulous Metro (it really is a fine, fine system) shut down. And all over the region, generators small (homes and small businesses) and large (office buildings, hospitals) are firing up to make life happen for hundreds of millions of people, at the height of summer heat and at the start of monsoon season.

Nothing like travel to make one aware of the human impact of global news.


Chuck King said...

Today (the day this posted) I received from a reader the following IM exchange. "T" works in a U.S. business, and "K" is an American expat she interacts with in their company. Talk about personal, real-time, small-world impact!
T (in the U.S.): Have you gotten power restored yet?
K (an American expat in India): which time?
T: I know it's an over & over thing there.
K: Yesterday we lost the equivalent of all the US and Canada. Today it was that 2x over. I was commenting to K__ that I was thinking about this today... If it had happened in the US and all of the US and Canada blacked out for 7 hours, it would have been like Armageddon and the end of the world - total chaos in the streets... Here it was like, "Oh, the power's out again, turn on the generator and let's get back to work." "What, half the country doesn't have power? that's it?" The power went off today and I didn't even realize it was half the country until two hours later M__ pops in and says, "I might stay late today - the power's out again" I said, "is it all over?" and she says, "Just like yesterday..." - major understatement...
T: It is a great commentary on culture (and entitlement mentality in the US).
K: indeed... we're all entitled to air to breathe, electricity, cell phones, TV's, DVD players, college education, state-of-the-art healthcare, and of course a shiny, new Chevy Volt electric car. And my office boy won't let me pay him for washing the cars anymore because I let him move into our maid's apartment free of charge...

Dan Ehrman said...

While I lived in China it was a daily occurrence to lose both water or power. There was mining in the mountains about 5 miles away and they would take over the whole cities water supply for a few hours. It just became part of the routine in life. I was just a young kid and it was a little inconvenient but more of an adventure than anything. It's amazing how spoiled we are here, when a few days without a/c seem like the end of the world.