Expat Tales: Indian Electricity Woes

During the years I lived in India, I dealt with enough power cuts to last me this lifetime and the next (not that I believe in the afterlife, so it was wasted penance as far as I’m concerned). Regular blackouts would see me applying makeup with a torch in front of the bathroom mirror (I probably looked like a drag queen when I ventured out the door); walking down the stairs in the dark clutching the hand rail like a geriatric, to light my house with dozens of candles like a pyromaniac on heat; boiling water on the gas stovetop while I looked at the useless kettle sitting nearby (I may as well have grabbed a billy can and lit a fire in the back garden like a jolly jumbuck); and barbequing food that was meant for the electric oven (Martha Stewart would gasp).

When blackouts lasted several hours, the taps would run dry in the absence of a functioning water pump (it was like living in the Dark Ages). At least I had running water most of the time; many Indians have to walk to a communal pump to collect their daily water.


Public water pumps

Public water pumps

The constant voltage fluctuations of power-outs played havoc with electrical appliances: my ipod speakers blew up; the hot water geyser in the kitchen burst into flames; the air-conditioner wiring in the bedroom caught alight three times, despite assurances from the electrician each time that the problem had been fixed; my laptop gave me electric shocks; and the tap in the bathroom zapped me every so often (did someone say water and electricity don’t mix?!)

After 8 years of power cuts, I would like to think of myself as a stalwart survivor of adversity, but I let that image shatter one night.

The dining room was cloaked in sudden darkness while my toddlers were eating their dinner. The back-up UPS failed to power up the lights, because our recently fired alcoholic security guard had failed to refill the battery. The torch in the back shed was sans bulb and the battery was flat, thanks also to aforementioned security guard. And so the three of us shared a candlelit dinner. If it wasn’t for the kids knocking over their cups of milk and spilling food across the table, it might have been romantic. Who am I kidding?

“Have you got a spare torch?” I rang my neighbour.

She arrived with a miner’s torch strapped to her head. It was to become my headwear of choice for the next hour, as I led my petrified children up the dark stairwell for a bath. Of course, the bath water was cold, the hot water geyser defunct in a power cut. Every time I turned my head, and hence the torch, to reach for the soap my children would shriek from the blackness of their cold pool. I left the miner’s torch in the corner of their room as a nightlight after putting them to bed, and I crept down the stairs with my hands on the balustrade like a blind person reading brail.

“I’ve had enough!” I phoned my husband who was on yet another business trip, probably somewhere shining brightly with thousand watt bulbs. “The novelty of India has worn off.”

Six months later I moved to Singapore.

Three months after that, lightning struck my house in Singapore, cloaking the place in darkness. Touche. Perhaps I have a few more power cuts to deal with in this lifetime.

Spaghetti wires of Indian electricity

Spaghetti wires of Indian electricity

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