Sometime on the night of Thanksgiving Eve 2002, a group of trekkers suddenly questioned the sanity of their decision to begin a 10 mile descent well after noon. Not known for my inspirational speeches, I chimed in with the opinion that it was easily the stupidest thing I had ever been involved in. Tired and depleted of wisecracks, the others simply agreed, flung their walking sticks to the side, turned off flashlights and fell in a heap on the gravelly trail. And there, lying on the North Kaibab Trail at approximately 3000 feet from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I found the hardened cynic in me take a rest, while the sap crawled out and sighed like a schoolgirl at the vision of THE perfect night sky. And in a collective moment of sappiness, we told each other that the suffering was worth it.
Who knew I would see an almost similar sight three years later sitting in a yard in S.Florida, a day after Hurricane Wilma had flattened the region. Well, that’s what 6 million homes without electricity can do to the night sky. It kind of turns the place into a Grand Canyon, minus the sheer cliffs & scenery of course. I also learnt that six days without electricity in the US can drive you to the brink of a meltdown. Add to that, 5 mile long lines for gas, the search for bags of ice, and mad traffic resulting in four-car fender-benders and you’re ready to just lay down & die (like Homer Simpson once declared).
I don’t remember if power outages (current-cuts) back in Madras ever lasted 6 days. But I do remember them being more fun. My Dad had a rather silly ritual which started off with the very weird announcement – that that place, that that sit. No, he knew his grammar, but somehow Butler English seemed to be his preferred solution to lighten up the mood. And after the candles had been lit, he would inspect the neighbourhood to determine if it was a “national or international cut”. National cuts were bad, because it meant the outage was local and that could only mean a faulty cable or a busted transformer which could take a few days to repair. And this also meant it was okay to venture out of the house. The neighbourhood Dads got together and cursed the EB, and were curious if the designated caller (usually a Cheenu Uncle) had already filed the complaint. Moms were curious too, but usually about the yummy dish that Choodamani aunty was preparing on her kerosene stove. Or as to why Ravi uncle had to be so loud about his wife being a lousy cook. The girls got together and giggled, while the boys wondered if they were giggling at them, followed by heated discussions about Marwari girls that would not fall for Tamil boys. The younger ones played Iceboy, while babies cried from the mosquito bites. No one worried about gas except maybe the PTC. No one had heard of propane tanks, and they didn’t need to what with all the cans of rationed krishnaayil sitting in every kitchen loft. And when it was time for bed, everyone made their way to the terrace, sheets & pillows in hand. And they would go to sleep gazing at the night sky arguing about which shiny bright star was the dhruva nakshathiram.
Yep, definitely more fun.