What the …!!!

May 17, 2010

Bangalore has an electricity crisis. So does the rest of India. There are people who only get electricity for a few hours a day. I know this. So I have no reason to complain, but…

In our old home, we had the great good luck to be one of two or three small towers that were affected by a faulty power transformer. Let me put this in perspective. We were a select 1% of our neighbourhood to be affected by this particular faulty power transformer. Yes, ONE percent. And we had to be in that elite one percent.

What this meant was, we had power cuts just like everybody else. We had the load-shedding like everybody else, we had the unscheduled power cuts like everybody else, we had the shutdown for maintenance power cuts like everybody else, we had the disruption of power supply due to an enormous storm like everybody else, and we had the tripping of the whole frigging grid due to some major calamity at some power plant somewhere, like everybody else.

What we ALSO had, was the faulty transformer, which broke down from time to time. Because we were only a paltry one percent of the neighbourhood who had to suffer due to this particular problem, we were never high on the priority list. I can understand that – when you’re struggling to fix all those other major problems, you don’t have too much sympathy for a lousy one percent sitting and sweltering somewhere. I can understand that… but I don’t have to like it.

The damn power transformer used to break down every few days, which resulted in frequent and very long power cuts to very few households. The guys would come and fix the problem, but it didn’t last; a few days later, it would be broken again. The building manager told us there was a small part that was faulty and needed to be changed. The KEB (Karnataka Electricity Board) people were aware of it, they just weren’t able to actually change it. “How small?” I wanted to know. “Can I, like, walk to an electrical shop and buy it?”

But with a power transformer, you have no idea what “small” means. It could be a matter of a couple of tons and run into six figures.

So, while everyone around us had electricity, we sweltered.

And of course, this coincided with the period when I was a SAHM, so I had the whole entire day at home to sweat it out. It also coincided with the period when I was trying to work from home for a period of several months. Obviously, I fretted and fumed while the work piled up, deadlines loomed, kids slept sweetly, the laptop ran out of battery, and the UPS for the modem bleeped and died.

So finally when we moved to our new home, I thought, “ok, at least we are away from that blasted transformer now.”

Summer rolled around. We revived our plans for solar power yet again. The plans have been in the making for three years now, and we’re no closer to actually getting some sunshine in our dark lives. We were obviously already in the thick of summer load-shedding (which began early this year, albeit with a welcome break during the BBMP elections) when Amit got to work on the solar power project. A chap came and talked to him, he sent a couple of quotes, and there the matter rests. Meanwhile, the power cuts proceed apace. Now that none of us is home all day during the week, we don’t feel it so much. Office, thankfully, comes with air-conditioning and is impervious to power cuts (however ruinous that may be for the environment).

Which makes weekends harder to bear.

On Saturday, we had power cuts from 9-10 a.m., 1-2 p.m., and then from 3 onwards. We thought the power would be back by 4, but decided to take the kids swimming just a little before 4. When we got home at 6, there was still no electricity. Strangely, though, one room still had electricity! Amit investigated and found the cause – workmen had been doing some work outside the house during the day. They’d messed around with the trip switches (MCBs, I think they’re called) in the main fuse box. By the time we’d found and fixed the problem, it was past 7. But well – this was a very local problem and we can’t blame anyone other than the workmen for it.

Then came Sunday. All morning, I was practically holding my breath wondering when it would go, but it didn’t. Great. At 3, we woke up the kids from their afternoon nap to take them to a magic show (that’s another story) and it still hadn’t gone. Not so great… it clearly meant there was disaster in store.

And there was, but not in the way I’d have expected.

As we drove back from the magic show, the rain that should have happened in reasonable quantities a couple of weeks ago, unleashed its pent up fury. It came pouring down in sheets of grey, with the wind driving it into our windscreen with vengeance. Naturally, the first thing that happened was that the trees started to bend and break. We had a small twig fly into our faces, followed seconds later by a sizeable branch. Luckily the branch landed on the intersection of the bonnet and the windshield – if it had landed in the middle of the windshield we would have been in trouble. As we continued on our way home, we were forced to take several detours, major and minor to get around fallen branches and broken trees.

At last, we reached home… to find… a power cut, of course. We’d seen at least one tree that had pulled down a power line, so the cause here was not hard to guess. What was hard to guess was when we could expect power to come back. It was not impossible that we’d be “powerless” all night.

In the end, we almost were. Electricity returned briefly at 9.30 but the voltage was too low to run fans, let alone TV or fridge. I was really worried about the fridge. K had come and cooked for our lunch, dinner, and Monday’s lunch on Sunday morning. If electricity didn’t come back, all the food would spoil and then what would I give the kids for lunch tomorrow??? By 10, it went off again, and we gave up and went to bed in the dark. At least it was cool enough, after the storm.

Sometime late at night, I woke up and heard the fridge running, and after that I slept happily.

Now, like I said at the beginning, I know the power situation is bad and there are people a lot worse off than us. And I know that after a storm like that, there’s bound to be power outages and really, the KEB folks do the best they can in those circumstances. The papers said a huge number of trees fell and electric poles were damaged. So you just have to accept that sometimes these things happen. But despite all the mitigating circumstances, the constant, unpredictable power cuts for hours on end made it a thoroughly frustrating weekend. Amit has been resisting getting an inverter on the basis that what we really need is a solar power system, but I’m fast reaching the end of my tether.

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