Dispatches from Delhi: Report 12

About a week and a half ago, I went to sleep with the air conditioner running like I have pretty much every night since I’ve been India. Anyone who’s ever been to this side of the world recognizes that the utilization of indoor air conditioning is one of the most important inventions developed for widespread use by the Indian populous since the discovery of spices in making all our food. Without the AC’s pumping cool air into the bedrooms at night, comfortable sleep devolves into a sweltering difficulty producing the results of a hardcore cardiovascular exercise.

However, power outages are not exactly the major figures of new problems in India, so I’ve learned from a very young age that when the lights go out, it’s to be expected since it happens quite often. So when I woke up at 2 a.m. sweating like all hell just broke loose, I figured the power went out like usual and would be back on soon.

After an hour, I got a bit impatient. After two, I became skeptical. And after I passed out from exhaustion and woke up still sweating six hours later, I was more or less confused, but still, it didn’t break the mold of the accepted norm for how things worked in India anyway. After a few more hours, the power kicked back in, and I watched Dexter until I had to leave the house to run some errands.

A few days later I was talking to a friend of mine with whom I hadn’t spoken in a while. So we went through the milieu of average question: what’s up, how’ve you been, what’s your life like nowadays, those kinds of things. I found out he was spending the summer interning in San Francisco, and I thought that sounded like fun. Then I told him I was interning in Delhi, and he asked me if I had heard about the blackouts.

And my first thought was, how the hell did he know what I was doing a few days ago? The thought had never occurred to me that being a part of a blackout was daily news, even worldwide news. To me, it was something that happened a lot. No power to a house? Okay. No power to a whole neighborhood? Okay, it happens. No power to a whole city? Eh I suppose, what of it? Massive traffic jams backing up as far as the eye could see? Have you been here before? What else is new?

Then I did some further reading, and the numbers were totally staggering. Apparently the blackout happened TWICE in two days, with three key power grids failing first in sequence and then simultaneously. The first day, 370 million people lost all electrical power for about 8-10 hours. The second day, 620 million people lost all electrical power for over 16 hours. If this happened in America, people would think Bruce Willis was on the chase for Timothy Olyphant while conducting a live reenactment of Die Hard 4 (if the metaphor is lost on you, watch the movie).

I was one of 620 million Indians who were essentially powerless (pardon the pun) against a completely ineffective and blundering infrastructure, an infrastructure headed by leaders who are ineffective at managing the country’s power supply, despite the exponentially increasing demands for more power due to the country’s jumps forward for economic growth. It’s strange to think that all my experience in the Western world has been characterized by infrastructural solidity, yet my acceptance of faulty Indian infrastructure as commonplace still persists.

I’ve always known this country had problems, problems that become even more pronounced when compared to America’s, but I never stopped to think of how bad because it’s just the way things have been in India for as long as I can remember. I used to think I could never relate to hardcore rap music, but most of the places around here would put the derelict state of housing projects to shame, just minus all the guns and drugs. Crooked cops, poor living conditions, power and water shortages; all these things could be parts of a treatise on life akin to that of the worst American cities of the past few decades.

But none of these things have the propensity to be glorified when living among them. It’s just the sad facts of life that make up this varied place. It’s just been a humbling experience to truly understand how much I have compared to how much I could have easily not have had in my motherland.