Cutting Power

There were several titles I had in mind for this post. Ultimately, I chose to go with this because it did two things: first, it reminded me of the phrase “cutting chai”, and second, it was premised on the fact that you could point to an individual taking decisions on whether load-shedding was necessary – a fact that in the moment that electricity turns off, is not something you think of.

I was introduced to the concept of load-shedding on my vacation trips to India. Invariably they gave me angst, because it meant the television would turn off (which I am grateful for – since it cultivated my reading habit), or that the fan would not work. In Bangalore, my grandparents had a small diesel generator that powered essential supplies even when BESCOM decided to carry out these exercises. In Pune, we didn’t have one till recently – and on the warm days that sometimes came by during the monsoons, I detested every bit of it. Living in a country that thrived on its large power source (oil), we never had electricity shortages, or cuts of any kind. It was a privilege I grew to appreciate.

Things sort of normalized for me when I relocated. I was fortunate that the community we stayed in had a diesel generator, but even when the power went – for an extended period of time, I don’t think it aggravated me as much as it used to when I was younger. There was more information: what the purpose of the load-shedding was, how long till we had mains supply back. There was also a lot more awareness about how non-renewables were being utilized to produce electricity, and the finiteness of everything. It made sense to reduce, or step back from heavy consumption for some time, if we could.

I didn’t really anticipate that these would continue at University.  This was largely because I felt like a University – an educational space could not function without electricity in today’s age. That is a presumption that is flawed in its own respects, but the first power outage I experienced on campus definitely shocked me (yes, I see the irony). I remember being in the night mess, having just ordered some food – when the power went out, and our campus was enveloped in darkness. In the distance, I heard some crazy screaming from the boys hostel – and I didn’t really understand how so many people could be united in their ability to yell into the void without any “guide” so to speak. There was no “leader”. No call & response system. Just a cacophony of people screaming “OOoooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOo” into the darkness.

I laughed. The power came back within two minutes, and things returned to normal.

Then exam season struck in second semester. That was when I recognized the power that anonymity vests within an individual. In the darkness, it is impossible to see who instigates something. With the kind of pent-up anger people had against the examination system and against the University at large – not anger I could relate to in my first year, I heard some of the most colourful insults, the source of which was definitely deep-seated. Oh, how I howled from my room. I was still too scared to venture forth in the dark – but I listened intently for the new slogans that my seniors came up with and the kind of responses they received. You could distinguish pretty quickly between chants that were received with universal acclaim – they produced the highest decibels, and chants that were centered around inside jokes, or things that only a particular group would understand, which led to sound being emanated only from one part of this oval we reside in.

I’ve previously argued that you could use all that sound energy to power a generator in some way.

Last night, the power went out for some time around 11:45PM. I sprinted out of my room immediately – running to the center of the hostel so I could get a better listen of what rage people would choose to let go of. We didn’t have exams, nothing stressful per se has been happening pan-campus.

Which provided opportune moments for comedy. Last evening was arguably one of the funniest nights this campus has seen. The rhyme schemes were inventive, they were relatable, and they got random juniors who had no idea what the fifth years were screaming about to join in for the choral response.

The wardens roamed around using a torchlight trying to find the source – because the comedy poked fun at them after a point. But when they shone on one set of people, the chants began from the other side of the oval. The synchronization was lovely. The outage lasted about 20 minutes at most, but when I met one of my batchmates after, he quipped that, just for pure entertainment value: living the darkness was worth it.

I hate to say it, but I agree with him.

There’s this entire practice I feel like I’ve written about before, but is worth repeating. In Flogsta, students scream out their woe every evening at 10PM. Every single day. It’s remarkable.

I sincerely hope & pray that we have a few more this semester. Some during exams. They shouldn’t last too long. Just enough. For the entertainment value.

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