The other day I was admiring some lampshades at a store and at the same time thinking about how ‘load-shedding’ (electrical outage/power cut) was fairly a regular occurrence during my early childhood and now as I am typing this, I am wondering why did that thought crop up at that moment! Anyways, I have always had a fondness for lampshades, big or small, contemporary or antique and I absolutely love candles, candle stands and good old fashioned candle holders. We currently live in an apartment with two little ones where there is not much scope for pretty lamps and shades but that doesn’t mean that I can’t admire from a distance. Lighting candles is almost out of the question too but once in a while, when I am cooking, I like to keep one lit in a corner.
The early years of growing up, memories of which seem to be getting clearer the more my life gets away from the city I grew up in, were part structured and part whimsical- as I suppose everyone else’s was/is. There was a set routine that we all followed from daybreak till when we hit the bed at night and even the unplanned seemed to follow a pattern at times. Unannounced guests who would be staying for days was normal and so was being reprimanded by the friendly neighbor for breaking his glass panes with a cricket ball. Life went on and we rolled with it. And ‘load shedding‘ (power cut/electrical outage) followed us around!
Ask anyone who grew up in Calcutta during that time and they will all tell you their load-shedding stories. Be it the sweltering heat of the hot summer days or the humid evenings, load shedding was omnipresent. It could show up any time and play with all the plans that you had made- be it a post lunch siesta or watching that movie on the television you had been waiting for a while or getting ready for the wedding you had been invited to. Or finish that dreaded homework that was due the next day.
On evenings when we would be vigorously studying (every single household with school going children in Calcutta, if not the whole of India had this in common) for the next day at school and scampering to get some homework done, it would suddenly get all dark and a collective murmur would fill the entire neighborhood- “Aabaar load shedding” (aabar means again in Bengali)! Summer evenings and nights, when it mostly struck, would find adults on the streets chatting and complaining, kids who had finished their homework hanging around and there would be a sort of almost merriment. Mosquitoes buzzing around, a distant bark of the street dogs, the tinkle of some passer by’s bicycle provided the background score to such sultry nights. But for the likes of me and many I knew, it meant finishing that homework in the light of the candles or lanterns and cursing oneself for not having finished it on time. It used to be insanely hot and humid and while I kept on going grudging, I remember Ma or Baba would patiently sit with me, with a handheld fan and keep me company, trying to make it less uncomfortable as I toiled in the flickering lights. And it often happened that my brother and I would go to bed and it would still be all dark. Twisting and turning from the mugginess, we would drift in and out of sleep while also trying to be awake to hear the sudden spinning of the ceiling fan. Gradually, the fever and the fret of the world would dissolve as Ma Baba would be there right by the bed, with those fans, trying to ease our discomfort.
Those days of load shedding and hand fans are a matter of the distant past and now I am irked by the slightest change in the settings of the thermostat. Time changes a whole lot of things and it changes people and their perspective. As Ma Baba get older, they continue to hide their discomfort from me, lest I get worried. But unlike those nights, when load shedding made it difficult to sleep, I now am very much aware of their plight that has been shaped with old age, ailments and partial blindness. And I can no longer drift away to sleep in peace. Air conditioning fails to comfort me the way those tiring hands did.
As I was going through my archive looking for ideas, these stared me at the face and tales from summers long gone, came rushing by.
Does this happen to you? What stirs bittersweet memories in you?
Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely rest of the week.