Thursday, February 26, 2009

Still Sixteen Hours! [Part II ]

I am lame. I just ranted for next Sunday's TKP. Here is is:


Still Sixteen Hours!
Dark! There are more things to see behind closed eyes than with eyes wide open: at least the eyes marry with the mind, bring squiggles and bursts and sparks of color behind the eyelids. And with a minute’s flirting, thoughts color their own merry circus, one bright image leads to a train of others, time passes without struggle. But, eyes wide open and searching, there is nothing but a bill of knees knocked in the dark, misplaced notes and emasculation -exasperation to deal with: still sixteen hours without electricity! Mid-noon is blanketed with the same doom that must have smothered the dark ages: the rattles and whirrs of modern conveniences disappear, now information doesn’t come my way, nothing can be made or unmade, reason itself seems to spiral down a dark well. There is nothing to do on the computer or see through it; there isn’t anything to watch on the television. Deferred deadlines lurk at the edge of conscience, scrape at the mind’s peace, and erode it bit by bit. Even the blood-pressure rises in protest.

Yet, tempered with a little statistics, even this isn’t too bad: Pakistanis, at the moment, are worse off than Nepalis, for one, and a large majority of the Nepali population remains without electricity, for another. It is foolish to look for a better human condition when there is no water in the reservoirs and the rivers seem intent upon annual destruction, and when the party in power enjoys forgetting its own role in birthing the malaise. Charity comes swiftest with the knowledge that one is better off, much better off, compared to the most abject: what little we have of Ampere and Volt, we must celebrate like the revolutionary nation that we are. There is electricity, a whooping eight-hour of it, and that must be reason to celebrate.
In any case, electricity is a demon that has the capacity to irreparably alter the surrounding: it announces its arrival with pylons and aluminum towers and hums and chirps and stormy sparks. It undulates and coils, shakes like a silver skein as it climbs over hitherto unobstructed hills to cleave valleys which nothing worse than the hand of man has touched. It arrives as if it is needed: to power radios, for instance, and bring foreign beats and babble to the children, encouraging them to gyrate and twist to strange ideas.

Electricity is bad. I remember when it entered my life, even in that primordial flare showing its full range: Electricity is at its worst when it can bind us entirely, and then, still dazzling with its brightness, push us into the abyss of darkness. Bhim Bahadur kaka who knew light bulbs because he had been in the Indian Army, came over to fix a single bulb into the holder hanging from the sooty rafters of our kitchen. Taking caution against its potential to sting, he stood on a wooden chair and screwed the bulb in. There was a bright flash, too bright, the coil inside burning to a vivid blue, before it whimpered, shuddered at what it saw, and turned into a sunset-copper, lighting only Bhim bahadur kaka’s eyes. And it died.

Yet, that wasn’t the only drama that electricity brought to the lives of people in Abu Khaireni: the village was to be the site for the Marshyandgi Hydro-Electricity Project, the biggest of its kind when it was announced, or so we were told. Thousands of laborers descended into the narrow valley to tunnel through the granite under Chhimkeshwari hills. When a few Japanese engineers died with two dozen Nepali laborers, their funerals was a sight to see, unrivalled in pageant and curio until a circus came through town almost seven years later. Young women disappeared and feces appeared everywhere. The old—men, women, trees, streams and fields, the forests—choked under an envelope of dust, the life slowly squeezed out of them, as they young dismantled the mountain, the river, their heritage.

The children’s games were pushed away from their houses near the highway, now torn up by crane trades, to the river drained dry. Every day brought fresh news of new accident, theft, absconding, elopement, distress and death. The stench of feces increased, finding a new surface in every farmer’s field, under each large tree, even inside the enclosure where the Magar people’s Budhi Barahi lived under a fig tree. On my way to the school one morning, I saw the hook of a two-ton crane unlatch and swing with the inching crane, cleanly scattering away the head of a man while his torso crumpled on the spot where he had stood. All of this for electricity.

So that we may have rice-cookers and refrigerators and vacuum cleaners and pornography and the luxury of emailing articles to our editors. I think my village suffered enough for the electricity it generates. I can’t complain: Khaireni has only a few hours of power cuts each day. That is just, I think, given what surgical horror the valley had to undergo to make its contribution of 69 MW, unlike Kathmandu, which still stumbles ahead through sixteen hours of darkness. Perhaps, this too is just. But this is small comforts for someone whose life is tied to a wily mistress, the punishing ways of Bijuli.

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