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How I Wish It Would Rain

May
7
2007

One day, soon after I moved to New York, I was in between classes when the skies turned ominously dark and the rain started to lash down in sheets, hitting hard against the large windows at New York University’s library, blurring the world outside.

I was overjoyed. My first impulse was to run out and feel the rain on my palms as I’d always done growing up in India. The rain felt the same, even though I was miles away from home. My enthusiasm, however, was not shared by the people in the room, who looked more doleful than cats in water. It wasn’t quite their idea of a beautiful day as it was for me. My American friends couldn’t understand it. How could I possibly prefer overcast days to bright sunny ones? My answer was simple – you’d know if you grew up in India.

I’m talking about the weather because I now live in New Delhi and we’ve only started the weary trek into the interminable North Indian summer. We’ll have endless sunny days but that does little to lift the spirits of Indians. What does send them into a frenzy is that unexpected shower in the middle of a sun-drenched week. Children run outdoors and splash around, women lean over from their balconies, couples go for long drives, peacocks come out to dance, and leading dailies print pictures of people and the flora-fauna alike rejoicing in the downpour.

Why do we love the rain so much? First, because we don’t get much of it, and second, because the temperature at the peak of summer can go up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the rain brings much needed relief from the scorching days, which are made worse by regular power cuts across the country.

India is facing a power shortage of 70,000 MW and this leads to load-shedding – power outages deliberately created to ease demand – for several hours each day. You Californians who have seen a few years of summer-time black-outs know what I’m talking about.

I’m facing and outage even as I type this. Of course the reason I am able to pound away is not because my house is powered by solar energy, but because urban Indians like me have learnt not to rely on the government. We have, instead, made our own arrangements, as far as possible, to keep from plunging in the dark. At times like these, homes run on inverters, which, in turn, run on battery power and generators, which run on diesel fuel.

These, however, come at a price so not everyone is lucky enough to afford them.

A silent generator, which is what one is allowed to use in residential areas and which can run air conditioners, can cost $3,000 to $7,000. This does not include the cost of running the generator which can vary, If you end up using it for say four hours in a day, it can cost you $10 to $12 a day just for the diesel fuel. An inverter by that measure is cheaper. You can get a regular one for about $250 but it only runs the fans and the lights, and it needs electricity to charge its batteries. Once charged, it can run for about eight hours but your trouble begins if the power cut goes beyond that, and in the summer it often does. Then you’re left with no power and only hope.

The government is under fire for this power mess and as people have been protesting for the discomfort they are been put through. In many cases they’ve taken to the streets and pelted stones, even attacked electricity offices. The problem is complicated, as it involves both the government and the private sector and at many different levels, from the individual Indians states to the central government here in Delhi, transmission to distribution companies and grid management. And when things go wrong, there’s a lot of finger pointing.

In June 2002 the distribution of power was privatized in an effort to address the power woes in New Delhi, which has the highest per capita power consumption in the country and which experiences some of the longest hours of load shedding in the peak of summer. But five years later not much has changed. Power cuts are still a reality and residents are as angry as ever. The private distribution companies, (called distcoms) say in their defense that they do not receive enough power for a variety of reasons – power theft, overdrawing by other states – and so they are not to blame for the black-outs. The government on the other hand insists that the distcoms receive enough power and are badly managed.

When this will end is hard to say. Reforms are being thought up and new ways are being explored to bring the problem under control, but nothing yet has emerged and as we go into the summer with the mercury already touching 105 degrees Fahrenheit there is trepidation about the sweaty days that lie ahead.

For those fortunate Indians who’ve backed up their homes in preparation for the summer this crisis makes for morning news as they sip their tea in the comfort of their generated-cooled homes. For the rest it’s a hard reality that only hope for rain can relieve.

Share  Posted by Gopika Kaul at 12:52 PM | Permalink

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