When my mother was a child she lived in a village which had no electricity. Children going to tuitions in the evening had to carry kerosene lamps, she said. The significant word for me in that statement was not ‘lamps’. It was 'tuitions!' There were tuitions in our country even before electricity? How shocking is that?
Anyway, that is not what I am here to talk about, so let me move on. The lamps were called ‘hurricane lanterns’. This is because by design they could work even during a hurricane. You could hang one on the mast of a ship and sail straight into a tempest-- I was told-- and the lantern would do its job.
This topic came up as the passing cyclone made the authorities decide to shut the power down in our locality; uprooted electric posts pose a mortal threat to citizens. Earlier in the day, while I was at office, my uncle had called from Bangalore asking me to get home early. He had a graphic tale to narrate. A snapped wire had come in contact with a bus and had instantly electrocuted everyone in it. It met its purpose of persuading me to take his advice. When I stepped out, the cyclone was a few hours from hitting the coast but I could feel its effects right then. The wind seemed to flip and flap loose hair and big bushy trees with the same nonchalance. As I took it in, it brought with it a cocktail of myriad aromas; of sweat and perfume, of diesel chugging the generator, of a dead rodent, and of course, of the salty ocean. It seemed to tell me, “There is no place I haven’t been!”
Soon after I reached home, it became dark and I was left with nothing to do but sit before a candle listening to the heavy buzz of the draft outside. It was getting unmanageably boring, but hey-- how did mom handle this every single night, back in her electicityless days? I probed and she said they had three huge hurricane lanterns to light the whole house. They finished all their business soon after dark, blew off the lanterns (or turned them off, however they were supposed to be turned off) and went to bed. Also, she said there was this dude who came every night, poured oil and lit lamps placed on posts along streets. Yes, there was a guy employed just to do that. I wondered what his designation might have been: street-lamp-oil-pourer-and-
And once during those times, my mother had gone to Bangalore to stay with some relatives for a few days. And guess what she saw when she returned to her village? A marvel of modern science, a manifestation of the ingenuity of human mind, a hallmark of technological advancement, a sophisticated gadget that glowed magically without the need of having to pour anything into it… A Tube light! And she says what she witnessed that day-- the same old things in her same old house come to life with a brand new brightness-- is still fresh in her mind, more than half a century later!