Posted by: gdevi | April 27, 2011

Powerless

Yesterday’s storm was an elemental fury; an old tree in the woods behind our house crashed down to the earth. Fortunately none of the trees, several of them keeling over dangerously now, fell on the house. In bright sunlight, the rain pelted the city with millions of gooseberry-sized hailstones. D was seeing hail for the first time. Can I go out and pick some, she asked. No you will get seriously hurt, if you did, we told her. It was incredible; I called D over and we sat at the window and watched the storm.  Go get your video camera and record this, I told her; I don’t know how to operate these contraptions. You don’t see this everyday. The dogs were going crazy barking at the hail. Soon Krish’s student called from the lab and said that the Unix lab had a water leak, so he ran to school to protect the machines from water damage. And then the electricity blew out around 6pm. We have an old phone that is not cordless in the garage and that was the only thing working. It was amazing, for the first time in a long time I guess, we had no cooked food in the house. I had planned to make dinner after I came back from work. But the backyard was so awful that I thought I would clean that first. So we now have a very clean backyard but no supper. We had plenty of frozen stuff but how can you eat them? The electric range in the kitchen was out, the toaster was out, we could not use the barbecue thing outside because of the hailstorm. It was like living in another time. Food was not the major crisis though. I am bored, yelled D, no television, no PS3, what can I do? Fifty seven channels and nothing on!!!  I am bored, D said. Honey, saying you are bored comes from a singular lack of imagination; you can think and do many things in your mind; all these things are pointless, I told her. It is your mind you should cultivate, not the PS3. It is much better to invent the PS3 than to play it, isn’t it?  Would you like some bread and cold milk for supper? No, she said and fortunately found her Nintendo DS under a pile of something.

The power outage continued through the night. The entire town and the university were without electricity all evening and all night. Come and see what candles can do, I told D. You know when Appu mammen and I were kids in Sri Ammumma’s house in Trivandrum, we had something called “load shedding” every evening. The government would shut off electricity every evening for many hours. This was their way to conserve electricity. It was supposed to be for just an hour for each electricity sub-division, spread across the state–it was supposed to even things out– but I think all the electricians who worked at the substations were drunk and they turned off the electricity and went back to playing cards and smoking their beedis. It was not their electricity, was it?  It was most inconvenient; we had homework to do. So we read and did our homework in candle light and lantern light. It was incredibly inconvenient. My father, your grandfather, would tell appu mammen and I to call the sub-station and tell them we had homework to do. See it was inconvenient for adults too. But those goof-offs in the sub-station were not going to listen to adults, so achan would tell us to call the sub-station. I have made so many of those phone-calls. Please turn on the electricity, sir, I would tell them, I need to do my homework. Okay,okay, the goof-off would grumble. They would get our sub-station number etc presumably filling out paperwork, but I am sure he was scratching behind his ears with the pencils. The rascals! Anyway no electricity for hours and hours and hours. That is how I got so good at memorizing things, I told Dayani. I would go over many many things I had read in mind until they became crystal clear in my head. You should try it. Let me teach you how to count in Malayalam from one to ten, I told her. So we sat there in the darkness and I taught her how to count in my mother-tongue. By then Krish had come back–the machines were safe!–and we all sat in the darkness of the living room with the candle for company. You could pick which direction of darkness you wanted to look at, as the poet said. Up, down, ahead, behind, outside. Then we came up with a game: say the name of a movie, then the next person has to come up with another movie name that starts with the last sound of the the previous word. Naturally, I won, because my head is full of such information. Funny story, when I was in grad school, my friends had a standing joke–if somebody wanted to know something very trivial like the accounting firm for a studio or the name of the key grip or caterers or carpenters or something–they would say, ask Gayatri, she would know, she watches the end credits of everything. So anyway, an interesting evening. Then D sang songs, K and D played some acoustic guitar–the electric guitar had to sit mute–then we all went to bed in the quaking thunder and lightning. Aren’t you afraid, D asked me. No honey, I said, I grew up in this weather. I feel right at home in this. Look at the Amish; they are fine too. We should all be like the Amish. When the rest of the world goes under because of a power outage, the Amish will be fine. I wish we had a wood-burning stove in the kitchen so I could have made you some hot supper.

I was driving to work this morning; the destruction from the storm is spectacular. Several big trees on Water Street are in shambles. They restored power around 6 in the morning. Apparently several buildings in the University suffered great damage.  A huge huge tree outside my office window lays uprooted like a beached whale. Quite a sight. Two more days and then the semester is over; finals week, and then I hope I will be able to plant my garden.

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