I never thought I would miss those days. The world plunged into darkness due to sudden power failure. Sitting under a lamp or candle on the study table and struggling to finish homework. Wiping off sweat and trying in vain to kill the buzzing and stinging mosquitoes by slapping on the legs, cheek or forehead. A common scene in most households in Agartala and in many small towns across India in the eighties.
We used the term load shedding for power failure. It was sometimes announced and often unannounced. It was usually in the evenings when the power demand was high. Local newspapers would carry the load shedding schedule for the day. Sometimes a messenger from the power station would pass by on a rickshaw announcing the schedule on a loudspeaker. Load shedding allowed power providers to meet high capacity demand by simply switching off supply.
Most evenings my mother urged us to finish our homework early so that we could wrap up our studies before the lights would go out. Trust me, studying under candlelight was no fun but it also allowed us to evade studies. In those days, unlike now, candlelight didn’t evoke any sense of romance in me. Candlelight meant enduring another evening of sweltering heat and stinging mosquitoes and missing our favourite serials on Door Darshan.
I am talking about the days of Buniyaad and Nukkad. These were followed by Fauji that made Shahrukh Khan a sensation overnight. In those days our TV watching time was regulated. These TV serials would run for about half an hour sometime between 8:30 to 9 pm in the evenings. My mother allowed us to watch these serials besides Sunday morning Mickey & Donald cartoon shows. Often power would fail just before or while we would be watching with rapt attention one of these shows. That was the worst part about load shedding for me.
There was power back up in those days. Generators were probably used only for emergencies. We would get a generator on rent if there was a wedding or any other function at home. Whenever power failed, it would be dark everywhere barring the faint light of candles or lamps. Flames would attract insects and flicker in the breeze. We could see faint the silhouettes of houses and trees, or people passing by
On such dark load shedding nights, I would often sneak out and make my way to the terrace. In the darkness, I would lie on my back watching the stars shining in the night sky. I would spend hours watching the stars change position. I made a million wishes under the shooting stars. On moonlit nights a faint gold light would add to the aura. Enamoured by the moon and her enigmatic scars I would dream many dreams on those nights.
When I look back, memories of those late evenings in the dark on the terrace are what I cherish the most. Unfortunately, the march of development has stolen those nights and the shine from the stars. My little town Agartala is all bright and lit up now through the night. When I look up at the sky a few stars glitter faintly, lost in the bright light.