I wake up with a start to a strange, sticky feeling on my skin. It is semi-dark, and I am not sure where I am. Instinctively, I grope for my phone and squint at the time. 4:15 am. The birds outside know no Sundays, they are chirping loud enough to wake the entire community up. Something feels very wrong within my body, but I am not quite sure what. Still lying on the bed that is soaking wet now, I stare blankly at the ceiling. The blades of the fan are still. They are not moving. Suddenly, it dawns on me. I am in the throes of a power outage on a hot, Sunday morning.
Nostalgia soaks me some more. I haven't felt the discomfort of a power outage for years now. It's amazing how the body remembers every little detail of how the discomfort felt all those years ago. Before inverters or emergency lights were in vogue, I studied using lanterns (we used to call them hurricane lamps) during long power outages. The planned power outages used to last an hour everyday during the summer months, but the unplanned ones due to faulty wires or storms lasted hours. In between, homework and exam preparations happened. I never got a note to school saying that assignments were not done on time due to a power outage.
As if on cue, a mosquito buzzes somewhere close to my right ear, lightly fanning the skin there. Out of sheer instinct, I slap myself hard enough to kill the arthropod in one go. Looks like that's a skill I did not forget either. Studying by the fire used to happen 20-30 years ago, and it was nowhere as romantic as candlelit dinners. I continue to stare at the ceiling fan, wondering how this indefinite power outage will affect me. Without power, there is no internet. Stored water will soon run out, and so will drinking water. Should I take a shower now, or assume that electricity will be restored in a few hours? Should I hurry up and finish breakfast at 5 am? Should I finish doing the dishes and other household chores that require water? How can I prioritize the things that require water? Almost everything requires water. Thanks to jet lag and the time difference with the US, I was working till well past 3 am, hoping to wake up late on Sunday. Yet, an hour's worth of sleep is all I get. It's so still outside, not a tree branch moves. Remembering the bamboo fans we used to have handy, I reach for an unbound textbook to fan myself, praying that I eventually fall asleep in the process. But sleep eludes me.
Suddenly, I decide to put my physical discomforts past me. Yes, it is summer and there will be surprise power outages, lack of water and internet, attack of the mosquitoes, and many such things. Yet, I see a ray of hope. Rather, I smell a ray of hope. It is perhaps not in my imagination and even amid all this discomfort, I can detect the faint but familiar smell of a fruit. I stop staring at the ceiling fan, get out of the bed, walk to the kitchen, and grab a big bowl. I wash two of the ripest fruits and head towards the balcony. There, I sit on the floor and enjoy the sweetest, freshest and ripest mangoes. No frozen mango, not from Mexico with preservatives galore, but plucked right from a tree probably within a ten-mile radius of where I was sitting. While summers sometimes bring power outages, may summers continue to bring me these mangoes.
Hello from Kolkata!