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The horror of a 22-hour power cut in Tamil Nadu

Last updated on: October 19, 2012 11:00 IST

It was 5 pm on Wednesday when the power went out in my village in Tamil Nadu. While my wife confidently said that it would be back in an hour, little did we know it would take 22 hours for it to return!

The evening sky was overcast and a downpour was certain.

My daughter had just returned home, relieved that she had just managed to avoid the rain. That evening it didn't just rain; it poured and thundered, and the lightning lit up the night sky. The wind blew hard making a howling sound as it passed through the trees.    

An hour-and-a-half later, it was all over. But the power was not restored.

I telephoned the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board junior engineer (JE), Kurumbur, to inquire.

"The power will not be back any time soon. A huge tree has fallen bringing down three electric poles," was the dull reply.

Three hours later my valiant invertor gave up, casting the whole house into darkness. 

With the rains came huge swarms of mosquitoes.

Usually the fan kept them away, but with no electricity, the fan and electronic mosquitoes repellant were rendered useless. So it was us versus the insects. No prizes for guessing who won. The night stretched on endlessly with buzzing in our ears. We sweated and swatted till dawn came. Fortunately, the thunderstorm had lowered the temperature. 

The village tea shop was abuzz at 6 am. "You know, power was restored in the neighbouring Nalumavadi village at 3 am, but our village still has no power," said a villager.

Another villager added, "When the chief minister came to inaugurate something in our village all the roads were repaired, all the streetlights worked and there was plenty of water. Now she inaugurates everything by video conferencing, so the roads remain unrepaired, the streetlights don't work and there is no water or power," said another villager.

Technology is meant for the betterment, but here it was working against the people.

"Does Jayalalithaa know there is a power shortage?" asked the tea shop owner. "I doubt it, she doesn't come out of her house; everything is done through video conferencing, so she knows nothing," said a villager.

There has been no power for more than 12 hours now.

"You think Koodankulam will change anything?" asked Alagesan. "I doubt it, it will be the same story; same TNEB, rains, poles and the same Jayalalithaa," answered Murugesapandi.

The villagers had clearly lost all faith in amma. In 2011, she had wiped out the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam and since then she has been sending them regularly to jail and done nothing else. 

When I tried calling our panchayat president he was downright rude. "There is no power in the entire village and only you are cribbing," he screamed. At 8 am I called the TNEB office in Kurumbur. "You know the Saravana chair mart office? A tree has fallen near it and we are cutting it; it will take some time," was the reply. 

A TNEB wireman came and parked his cycle near the bus stop. He went into the bus shelter and went to sleep. "He must have been awake the whole night," said Alagesan. "I was also awake the whole night playing with the mosquitoes," offered another. 

At 10 am power was restored in our bazaar. I called up the junior engineer again. "Sir, Nalumavadi has power on one side and Kurumbur has power on the other, are we cursed that only we don't have power; it has been 17 hours," I was almost in tears.

"I have been awake the whole night trying to install three poles, we don't have enough workers. Every time someone retires we are not allowed to recruit," said the junior engineer.

Here we were without power and he was telling me about the government's recruitment freeze. 

"Will we get power or not?" I asked pointedly. "Yes, you will, near your school there is a transformer, all three cups caught fire when we switched on the power. We are looking into that," he said. 

There was no water at home as the panchayat water could not be pumped without electricity. My wife ordered a can of drinking water and told me to calm down. My nineteen-year-old daughter was even more philosophical, "Accept what you cannot change," she declared. 

I could not eat, sleep, bathe or read. The charge on my mobile phone was going down slowly. I wrote down the JEs number on a piece of paper so that I could call him from my landline. At 1 pm, I called the JE again, "It's been 20 hours don't you have pity on us," I asked.

"Please understand we are trying our best, we don't have replacements for those cups that burnt out, and we have to repair them. My men have gone for lunch, you give me two hours," he replied. 

I was completely beaten. I prayed and the gods smiled benignly from all the photos hung on the walls of my home. By then I had informed my friends in Delhi and Mumbai of my predicament. I got sympathy from my sister in Seattle and daughter in Mumbai. It did not help. 

My mobile phone informed me that I had to redo my last report, and then died on me. I wept, and all of a sudden the power came back, and the fan dried my tears. 
A Ganesh Nadar in Tamil Nadu