25 May 2007

Lights out

9am. First power cut of the day. How many will there be today? Yesterday there were only two – which is exceptional. A few weeks ago there were up to five a day. Lately we’ve been averaging at least three.

I’m learning to plan the day around the daily cuts. I fill up the water bottles first thing in the morning because the water purifier won’t work without electricity. Getting a load of laundry done is more challenging. On Monday this took the whole day because the wash cycle kept getting interrupted. Luckily I have a laptop so I can continue to use the computer without interruption on battery power. I also now understand why the fridge is so COLD – if it were kept at a more normal temperature everything in it would eventually rot and melt way during the long hours without electricity.

During the day I can live with them but it’s the evening power cuts that are most annoying. They inevitably happen while I’m trying to cook. I’m becoming adept at cooking by candlelight. I’ve also been out for a meal a few times when the power has gone out. The whole restaurant is suddenly plunged into darkness. But there are no gasps of surprise from the customers or screams from the children. Everyone just waits quietly for the generator to kick and roar into life and for the lights to come back on so we can get back to the food on our plates.

Power cuts are also programmed to happen during dance class. The three ceiling fans suddenly grind to a halt and I submit to the torture of being tied up in a five-metre dance sari, the sweat pouring down my face and neck more quickly now, stinging my eyes while I’m trying to concentrate on my tribhangi. I gasp for air. We open the doors and windows wider but it doesn’t make a difference.

Daily power cuts, or ‘load-shedding’ as they’re referred to here, are a reality in many Indian cities, especially during the hot summer months when air-conditioners get switched on and electricity demand surpasses supply as a result. Rural towns and villages are worst off, with inhabitants experiencing long stretches and often whole days without electricity while power is diverted to the big cities where the needs of the middle classes are greater. Almost half the population of India has no access to electricity at all – and for those who do, there just isn’t enough to satisfy demand.

Of course businesses couldn’t cope with all these daily interruptions to the electricity supplying their computers, lights and air-conditioners, so many have back-up power available in the form of diesel-run generators. Huge UPS (uninterruptible power supply) batteries maintain power between the moment the electricity fails and the generator kicks into action. Many apartment blocks also have back up power supply in the form of generators or battery back-up systems that will keep lights on and ceiling fans moving for a few hours. For those who don’t have access to back up power, they just have to grin and bear it. In Bangalore where the weather is mild, this isn’t too bad. But I read that in Delhi when temperatures reach 45 degrees and the power goes off, people get into their air-conditioned cars for relief from the heat!

(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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