TODAY -

With Little Power, Comes Enormous Frustration

Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam *

 Staffs of Power Dept installing pre-paid power meters in May 2012
Staffs of Power Dept installing pre-paid power meters in May 2012 :: Pix - Hueiyen Lanpao



'Heroism is endurance for one moment more.'
- George F Kennan

Sitting on one of the benches at The Classic's Sendra resort, I basked in the glory of Loktak, and said to myself, "This is an exciting time to be alive in Manipur." There was no trace of sarcasm in that thought, even if so many things are wrong right now. Perhaps, it was the beauty of the lake. Perhaps, it was being at the resort, an example of the slow but undeniable course of modernisation that is taking place in the state.

Factors like these tend to pull us irresistibly towards blinding optimism. We see one good movie and think the Manipuri film industry is nearing perfection, but a poorly acted and scripted specimen is enough to overturn such a generous opinion. Upon careful reflection, once the proper parameters are laid on the table, our impulsive judgements are found to be faulty. In the heat of the moment, though, knee jerk reactions are valid in themselves, and my appreciative mood would not allow further criticism.

This mood stuck with me during the return journey. The car window was rolled down, and the sight of lush green fields, recently filled up ponds, and close-knit tranquil hills made sure it stayed. We—my family members and I—decided to stop at Loukoi Pat. By the time I was seated in a boat, which my brother and cousin were paddling and steering, it was nearing dusk and most of the visitors had left. The place was silent, calm, breezy and mesmerising. It was all very pleasant, and my optimism began to assume astronomical proportions.

The good parts of life have this sneaky penchant for acting like a veil, temporarily shielding us from the other side of reality. My bubble was sadly going to burst as soon as I got home. Actually, make that a balloon. A helium-fed balloon. A helium-fed, heart-shaped balloon which would immediately be pierced by the sharp, apathetic point of a needle. It was after six when we reached Uripok. There was no power even though we were supposed to be getting it; it only returned a few minutes before seven, which left us with just three hours to enjoy the benefits of electricity for the day.

Of course, the next day, we were only going to get a similar quota in the morning, and then it would be total blackout till ten in the night. That's what our new roster is. 5:30 to 7 a.m., then 10 to 11:30 a.m., then 5 to 6 p.m., and then 6:30 to 10 p.m. On alternate days, we wave goodbye to power in the morning, and welcome it back just as we're getting to bed.

Why do we need electricity at home? The answer should be a long list. Basics such as electric motors for pumping water, heaters, rice cookers, washing machines, ironing, charging the mobile phone, etc. come to mind. Then, there's entertainment, which—let's be honest—helps us get through the daily grind. So, TVs and computers ought to be counted. Finally, we have the question of charging lamps and inverters for, you know, filling the void.

I'm sure we can all add a lot more, depending on our personal needs. Electricity, therefore, is not some disposable accessory. With increasing reliance on electronics and electrical appliances, its availability becomes increasingly vital. Even if we forget about modern contraptions, we still have to worry about water and, to put it simply, darkness. Not everyone can afford to maintain a generator, and no one should have to.

Surviving on less than eight hours of electrification was always going to be tough, but let's say it was unavoidable. We might lack resources, and some of us suffer from that disease known as 'unwillingness to pay the bill'. I mean, many of us have been surviving already; we are a heroic race.

What's harder to swallow is the arbitrary distribution of it. For instance, a few areas are allotted more hours than the rest, and others, like Uripok at the moment, are crippled by bizarre time slots. How does one function without electrical power for ten straight hours during daytime, for months at end? How does this fit into the idea of a 'developing state'? The mind simply cannot grasp the depth of these anomalies.

With every change in the load-shedding arrangement, our daily routines require a reshuffling. I wake up at seven because I sleep late, which means I have missed a half of the morning slot. As I work as a freelance writer with my laptop, this leaves a bad taste in the mouth. We now have to use a mechanical water pump, competing simultaneously with the neighbours' electric motors powered by generators, and this is because we only get water from three to five in the afternoon, on alternate days. Daytime reminds me uncomfortably of Delhi summer since we can't use the fan to rescue us from the heat and humidity.

Yes, I could wake earlier; yes, we should purchase a generator; yes, we should buy a dozen Chinese fans and work our arm muscles—this is the endurance expected of us. The slots will remain as they are, impractical and impersonal, and the Sangai will continue to dance at Keibul Lamjao. Maybe, Darwin had abilities to see into the future, and upon catching a vivid glimpse of our situation, made his famous observation that evolution is about survival of the fittest.

Incidentally, a metre-box for prepaid electricity was installed at our house last week. Better days are coming, and I shall greet them with the knowledge that I, too, have endured.


* Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on May 24, 2014.


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