I don't watch Indian television. All the serials are the same, all the news channels are just screaming heads and all the movie and song channels have the same six songs/movies on loop. But then again even if I wanted to watch television, for the most part I couldn't.
I've lived in urban Delhi. I've lived in rural Karnataka. I've lived in hilly Uttarakhand. I've been treated in friendly Gujarat. Now I live in beachy Kerala. Besides all of these lovely places being in India—what's the other common factor between them? I've spent countless days in each and every one of these places without electricity.
When will the lights stay on? We don't necessarily need a debate—we need an answer.
Yup, in 2016 when every social media campaign is either talking about one frivolous thing after another I want a simple answer to a basic question—when will the lights stay on?
I hear political activists talking about Modi this, Congress that. I hear nationalists talking about Pakistan this, Kashmir that. I hear pop culture junkies talking about Pink this, Salman that. I hear sports fans talking about Dhoni this, IPL that. So who exactly is talking lights? In all the talk about money, power and politics, doesn't anyone understand that you can't Make In India without electricity?
I see literally thousands of wind energy fans and solar panels when I travel the country—where is that power going? Big companies, small factories, wealthy and middle-class families generally seem unfazed or simply have accepted this as the reality, especially since they have inverters and generators to fill the power gap. What about the rest of us?
What about the elderly woman in Delhi who lives alone and prepares all her meals but can't see what she is making?
What about the farmer in Karnataka trying to irrigate his land but unable to grow his crops?
What about the kid in Uttarakhand researching for his school project but unable to use his computer?
What about the patient in Gujarat fighting an uphill cancer battle wishing to speak to her children at home but unable to use her phone?
What about the Kerala fisherman who needs to charge the torch he takes to sea in the evening as he goes for his final catch (because the battery torches corrode so quickly and he can't afford a new one every fortnight)?
Sure there are options in all of these cases and none are life or death scenarios but has anyone stopped to think how our productivity slows down when we have to constantly worry about small stuff.
I don't know what the solution is because I don't know who's in charge. Is it the government, the state, our PM, Reliance, who?
Let's add all the money people have spent on generators, inverters, diesel, petrol, power supply backups, batteries—now tell me, haven't we made electricity a luxury? If we simply continued giving power, you'd have to imagine that the cost of those bills to the new market we've created for "alternative light" would match up.
While ministers are busy giving away bicycles and the government is busy building or rather contracting out toilets, perhaps they will think about what is needed once there. Getting to school and not having proper light the whole day, coming home and not being able to read, going to a bathroom at night and not having light—these are issues that warrant our immediate attention.
In all of these places I've asked locals why there is no light. I've heard there is an overload, the state doesn't have the money to supply 24/7 power, there is enough power but the state is selling it to other states...others say they don't know—it's just the way it is.
To me, all of those reasons are unacceptable. Why? Because you can't claim progress and development when a family still can't have a fridge they can trust to preserve their food and medicine; or when you see a 90-year-old sitting without a breeze for seven hours in 44 degree weather. Is this an acceptable way for her to spend her remaining days?
I also don't know if we actually prioritize as a nation that our infrastructure should include electricity for everyone as a human right.
I don't know what the solution is because I don't know who's in charge. Is it the government, the state, our PM, Reliance, who? I also don't know if we actually prioritize as a nation that our infrastructure should include electricity for everyone as a human right.
For anyone that feels similarly, I urge you to contact your local papers, television channels and influential social media channels. Request them to ask this simple question: When will the lights stay on? We don't necessarily need a debate—we need an answer.
Just don't forget to let me know, since chances are I'll miss it—you know, power cuts and all.