The joy of being in the dark - Part II
Appreciating the darkness enhances our lives
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
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Well, the electricity for Black Hill was not there since ages, not even at the time of our marriage as we both well remember when Prakash from Kathmandu had come to visit his sister Ranjana as the in-laws were much worried how would she be doing in a remote place like Sikkim where electricity was not there four decades ago in the year 1975. He had reached Gangtok after traveling a whole day and a night. Not finding us there (we had come home for the weekend) he reached with great difficulty locating our place late in the evening. Ranjana could not believe her eyes when she found the voice calling her pet name in the darkness outside was that of her brother seen with the help of a lantern raised in the hand. He too recollects his experience when we met in the US and ask us many things about this wonderful place called Rhenock. That year and the year 2010 Dashain, we were at his place in the far end of New York with his mother our Maili Ma. Her other son Bikash then working with the UNDP too joined us and so also all other Tengal family members from New Jersey.
Electricity was not there for generations for us until our Thulo Mama Bhishma Pratap Pradhan* then the President Aritar Panchayat with Buba Jai Shanker Lall Shresta* landed up with a number of signatories in the Tashiling Secretariat to submit a petition for their village being provided with such a facility. It had just reached Rhenock Bazar and that must be before Rongli. They were told that the transmission work going on for Rongli, the facility could also be extended to this place too if a representation was made to the Government. It was the year 1976 perhaps when Rinzing Tongden Lepcha* was the Power Minister they met in the Development/Plan Building (the first Office building from the First 7-Year Plan) where the Health Department is located presently. Since the transmission line came through Dalapchand, Kazi Mama and others of Tintalle enjoyed the benefit earlier than we did in this end of Aritar. Even Kothi got the power connection much later than us. We had taken the electrician Buddhiman Tamang with his helper Sukbir Tamang all the way from Gangtok. Some years later we had engaged locally Deepak from Bihar to pass on the trade to his son Rajesh. Things were not the same thereafter as Rhenock Bazar saw many things good and bad to follow. Rice Mill replacing traditional Dhiki had eased life here to be entertained by Nepali/Hindi movies in the Sri Krishna Cinema Hall both examples of Thulo Mama's entrepreneurship as the sheen of The Chandra Nursery with Woodland Nursery he ran till he breathe last was fading away. I do not wish to list the bad part though many people attribute the 2014 inferno that engulfed the main Rhenock Bazar to the short circuit in the electricity that too due to sheer carelessness.
Being drowned suddenly in pitch darkness is neither the sole feature of the developing country like ours supported with the abundant hydro-power potentiated natural resources rich state we belong to or the neighbouring Nepal where it has been their way of life with power cuts extended to 12 hours or even more in a day, summer or winter whatever season perennially. No worry since the show must go on that continues in a routine manner even at the worst phase of their life with economic blockade inflicted upon them for months together. They carried on all the while with a smile wedding taking place with bridegroom cycling to bring back the newly-married couple in a rickshaw. No matter if the cooking gas was beyond their reach, firewood out of old furniture or whatever timber they had from the house dismantled by the Great Earthquake not very long ago. People reached Aryaghat at Pashupati Nath for funeral even. So the developed countries have to pass through the pangs of darkness due to some cyclone or calamity naturally no one could escape and would have to face the music. Rachna-Vimal were away for the weekend and their friendly neighbour helped to open the vent allowing water to flow out of the basement for their newly acquired house. Earlier, they had a taste of power crisis faced there staying in the house that is well insulated fully depending upon the electricity for light and all domestic appliances and facilities. A few hours without power means and makes a lot of difference to their otherwise nice and easy-going life with weekdays gone without any break from their routine looking forward for the weekend to enjoy their best and most. We feel blessed to be here by Mother Nature where simply opening the windows gives cool breeze to soothe ourselves escaping from the summer heat in the night or shutting them to remain in cozy homely warmth during the winter days. Only the degree of heat or cold depends upon where we are located in the vast country but being in Sikkim much of our woes are taken away thus to make me believe so. No wonder if people from the plains coming here find it exciting to be always in the air-conditioned environment and people here so blessed, naturally!
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Coming back home to be in the Black Hill unrealized to find that the whole region was under the severe grip of worst ever power crisis that people were helpless for days and nights together. We too had no escape but to join them as if to add to the misery or ourselves brought into such a fate. It was a testing time for us as many in Gangtok asked us why did not you come back the moment learning the grim situation over there. Otherwise, too our lifestyle had already been spoiled remaining there for some ten odd days too busy attending so many things finding ourselves in tight schedule and almost at the cost of our health. How the people cope with that itself is a mystery or misery one has to live with even in rural areas these days! We cannot help nor can we escape but things have definitely now becoming difficult the way life here too has turned out making it easier with multi-storey structures for the residence in lieu of cottages. With a huge water reservoir atop them and such a power failure, my neighbour was ruing for they have to carry water with no power-pump working to pull it up. Earlier, he nearly broke his limbs after a slip from the the ladder while checking the water in the reservoir. This reminds me of a colleague of mine in the beginning of my career working in the Home Department way back in 1975 such an action proved fatal to take life of such a nice and promising officer with otherwise bright career ahead. Life takes me back to many of the electricians mainly linemen losing theirs fixing the fault climbing atop the posts. Here, our cableman Purna from Aritar of local television channel lost his life similarly while connecting/correcting the cable two years back. Recently it was in the news that somewhere in the west district a person working to fit roof-truss happened to touch the power transmission line to bring an unfortunate end to his life. Fault lies with us or with the system we are in but these pass off as accidents one has not control over, whether in the developing country or elsewhere where we are mute witness accepting them as the destiny one brought with.
This time it was beyond their patience to come out to street at Rhenock bazar to protest against the system or lackadaisical manner they had been in the past. People from Rorathang, Reshi and all neighbourhood came together to raise the voice and were preparing for yet another time but to get back the light after five days though intermittently. Similar power failure had taken place some months ago but only half of the bazar and neighbourng area had to suffer but larger misery this time brought them all together in an unprecedented manner. While whole of the hills and vales were drowned in darkness day after day, it was 24-hour supply to some of the industrial units that saw no change to get the power day and night uninterrupted. Much might be behind the scene to have led to such a public resent but confined here with some hear-say stories unconfirmed about the manner the concerned dealt with.
Bad luck is ours not to have the power-supply restored even after days together drowned in the woes that makes us strongly believe that we are really in the fabled Black Hill even after years of being the nicest/best/cleanest/safest/happiest state. Yet we are happy recalling the now world-famous khukri dance immortal song from our childhood days Yo Nepali seer uchali sansarma lamkinchh, Junkiri jhain jyoti baali andhkarma chamkanch first sung by Prem Dhoj Pradhan (who posted it on YouTube on May 6 this year) and Tara Devi* for Radio Nepal way back in 1955. Penned by Bhupi Sherchan* with its music by Natikaji* this was the first ever patriotic song recorded in Nepal in the system donated by the US Embassy.
Many might be interested to know what about the inverter we had. To save it from lightening when we were not here, it was disconnected from the mains but was not switched off. As a result all the energy it saved was drained off much to our worry whether its battery had not gone the same plight like the last time. Luckily for us the new battery was not to give away so soon and so easily. So, when power was restored, our joy knew no bound when the inverter started blinking, red light turned off much to our relief and sheer delight.
A quote to came across online to share here ~ "By appreciating the darkness when you design the light, you create environments that truly enhance our lives."
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.