It meant unrushed, impromptu, and guilt-free togetherness with neighbors — over tea, savories, and meals
In India, we’ve always ‘indulged’ in power cuts. The excitement that filled the air the moment our fans drifted into a gradual slow rotation signalling the power cut, followed by a complete stop, was palpable. We made the most of the power cuts in the city.
The doors to our apartments opened to each other’s living rooms, figuratively. Just a few steps on the connecting foyer between the doors, and we found ourselves on each other’s doormats with words like ‘Home’ and ‘Welcome’ hiding under a soft layer of city dust. While casually popping into each other’s homes frequently was common, what we most looked forward to during those power cuts was to gather around in the foyer, and engage in laidback conversations, with an unabashed sigh of relief for the much needed break from our rushed routines.
The good tea-makers of the home, gender not-withstanding, would fill up a pan with water, and whilst it boiled, the sous-chef would quickly put together a snack to go along — from bakery-bought wheat cookies to homemade bhel puri (savoury-tangy rice snack): everything was acceptable. If nothing else was handy, packets of the ubiquitous Parle-G glucose biscuits served the purpose and were thoroughly enjoyed.
The kids had designated roles when it came to power cuts, and we didn’t mind. It was, after all, a time for us to take a break from studies too. We’d place a dhurrie (rug) on the raised floor which became our seating space during that time. We would pull out the other arsenal stored handily for precisely such times: candles, matchbox, a rechargeable flashlight, and wooden hand fans.
Soon the party would start, and we’d all make space for others to join in. A few of us children would then go on to sit on the stairs as mums and dads took over the dhurrie. The grandparents would be plonked on wicker chairs, dragged out of the balconies by us. Everyone would talk at the same time, yet we felt heard. We’d laugh at the same jokes about the local municipality’s tardiness, just as we’d express relief for these moments that we got to spend together. Prices of eggs, recipes of dal (lentils), the pressure of school homework, and designs of clothes for an upcoming wedding...each of us had something to say and we all loved to participate.
It fell upon the children to call the municipality from time to time to check on when power was expected to come back. We didn’t get any accurate replies mostly, but we made sure that our siblings took turns to attend to this call of duty. A few hours later, the municipality would put the phone off the hook, and we’d be relieved.
If it were closer to a mealtime, then the party would only get merrier. The buffet would end up being elaborate, and often multi-cuisine as well. The north Indian dal would be served alongside the Gujarati kadi (yogurt curry), and the rice would be prepared in a jiffy as an accompaniment. We’d be in the middle of bliss, even as sweat beads formed on our fore- heads in summer.
Then, just as suddenly as it had gone out, the power would come back on. The sounds of fans and other appliances coming back to life, and the sudden burst of light, was the rude but sure signal that the party was over. Once again, the mad dash of “normal” life would begin — leaving us all secretly hankering for the next power cut.
Disclaimer: This is a place where now and then — we pause to make sense of a routine existence. We turn into bystanders (as we witness our lives go by) — observing, absorbing, questioning, wondering...
(This piece first appeared in Khabar magazine, where I share nostalgic snippets of life in India)