By Chitra Ahanthem
Today’s FOOTNOTES is a first ever: it is an open letter and entreaty to the Electricity Department, it is an elegy to all the time I have lost more than half my mind trying to figure what to do when the light/electricity goes off while I am writing and I am stuck with a deadline that I have to meet, it is a cry for help. One reads newspaper reports that the entire state will be electrified by 2020: but if electrification means rationing out a few hours of electricity per day, pray what achievement is that supposed to be? There is a PIL seeking adequate electricity but nothing much has happened. Rather, the ration of some 5 and a half hours of electricity that happens in 3 cycles every 24 hrs has been recently decreased. It has now become a 3 hour ration of power/electricity/light every 24 hours.
5 and a half hours of electricity was difficult for most people. One still had to juggle every plug point in the house: charge mobile handsets, the battery and the inverter, do the ironing, washing, operating the water pump, heat the water and what not. Since the 5 and a half hour would be spread in three cycles (one for the morning, afternoon and night) it meant that one could only do certain things at the said hours. This would be the norm in every household. For people earning a livelihood by taking up small industries like rice milling, vehicle workshops and others; the short spells of electricity means loss of their earnings or having to invest in generators. The later meant that extra cost for petrol or diesel, which in turn raised the cost of services.
As someone operating on a freelance basis and working from home, I do not have an office, which takes away the electricity factor for me. That means I have lost the number of times I have gnashed and gritted my teeth in frustration when I am in the middle of a report I am writing or an article that I am trying to finish while the laptop battery shows a thin red blip that says “only 9 minutes left”. I have also lost count of the number of times I have lugged my laptop and left it to be charged (turn by turn) at 5 different houses in my locality where they have VIP electricity connectivity. I have also found that it is very distracting when I try to write in somebody else’s home and plus, there is always the added factor of discomfort of having people ask why I am doing what I am doing.
I am also genuinely confused over the “VIP line” : does it mean 24X7 electricity can be given to ONLY to VIPs? Or does it mean that it is a VIP line in itself? As it is, one hears that file moving fees and getting the necessary approval for the VIP line does make it special. I will not have any chance at all if this line is meant for VIPs: in no way can an unemployed and freelance writer and researcher ever have the VIP tag. Could the department please clarify who is a VIP and/or what needs to be done to get the VIP line? I am told that a person who is granted the VIP line must pay for the cable lines and that normally the grand total of the money needed to get such a line would be something in the bracket of 50-60 thousand ruppees. The simple maths tell me, that could be one reason why the 24X7 electric supply is called the VIP line: normal people would think many times before spending that much.
What then is the alternative, dear Electricity Department? One reads of power drives and bill drives and then you seem to forget everything and go back to square one. Manipur certainly must be the only place in the whole wide world where people have to pay their electric bills not per usage but by a fixed rate and that too, pay for the electric that is never there! Like many households, my family invested in a Moreh bought set pair of a battery and an inverter to make up for power shortage at nights. This was in 2000. We always thought the situation of electricity would one day improve: we are now into our third set of battery and inverter! However. Having a Moreh bought inverter and battery set (or even an Indian made set for that matter) really does not help: one cannot use the power so generated to iron, heat water, run the water pump and in my case, plug in my laptop to write!
3 hours of electricity for every 24 hours possibly means that the electricity department of Manipur may well have a shot at an entry in the Guiness book of world records. There are power cuts or load-shedding(s) happening everywhere but a mere 3 hours of power supply! Should we then congratulate you or hang our heads in shame that we the public, have allowed this to happen?
You could not have given us the 3 hour electric supply as a New Year gift or is it supposed to be a prank? I certainly hope it’s the later. So we have found it funny. Look, it’s even featured in FOOTNOTES so please, let’s stop the prank now shall we? If this is indeed serious business and is an omen of how the hours without electricity will only get longer, one shudders to think of going back to the dark ages literally. If this was anyplace but Manipur, I would have thought of reading my citizen rights: I would have pointed out to the international charters and covenants and said the state is meant to give its citizens a life of dignity and that would mean electricity, water supply and good roads. I would have thought of taking you to court and suing you for my consumer rights. But this is Manipur, where everything can happen but where everything that should happen, does NOT happen. And because this is Manipur, I will now start (or attempt) to look at how that blasted VIP line can reach my house.