It’s the height of summer in Bombay at the moment. So I’m thinking back to 35-degree days and still, sultry nights. Luscious Aphoos mangoes and fiery-red May flowers. School holidays and summer camps. Sweat-drenching humidity and soul-sapping heat. Oh, and power cuts...
With a flick of a switch the powers that be decided your power must go. A necessary step to cope with the electricity overload on the power grids. Often done after nightfall to make it more bearable, it was a part and parcel of any Bombay summer.
Suddenly, our ceiling fans (no middle-class family had aircon in the 1980s; today, everyone does) that were whirling at full speed, would grind to a halt. Drenched in sweat, we were awakened from our sleep.
On auto-pilot, we would light the taper candles that kept in a fixed spot for such emergencies, while Mum rummaged round for her pretty bamboo fan. For my brother, Jason and I, fans folded concertina-style from paper would have to do. But if these endeavours failed, an old newspaper or a Readers’ Digest were always handy. Dad would phone the electricity company to lodge a complaint and then wander down the street to have a chat with the other men from the neighbourhood – all of them milling around in their gunjis (singlets) and shorts.
In the dead of night, your ears perked up to sounds all around: infants crying, the clock going tick-tock, dogs barking, neighbours conversing. While the ladies perspired and the men sweated, the children grew listless. When would the electricity be restored??? Time s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d on and on and on.
So we distracted ourselves by making shadows dance on the wall in the light of our candles taken from the altar – a dog, a bird flying, a duck... Mum would go down memory lane, recounting stories of how her generation grew up without electricity – school homework and general housework all done by the light of Petromax lamps – unfathomable to my brother and me.
And, all at once, our prayers for the power to be restored sooner rather than later were answered. A collective “Oooooh!” echoed through the neighbourhood as fans and lights came to life. And we gladly returned to our sweet dreams and slumber...
To read more about my month of May musings, click here.
Did you experience power cuts as a child? What did you do to pass the time?