It was one of those breathless and still evenings. The two of us, me and my friend Barkatullah, a homoeopath of our village, were sitting by the pond at my village home. The guard light of our home was on. All of a sudden the light went off. It is not uncommon. This is a regular phenomenon and therefore does not call for any special reaction. We in Bangladesh are quite used to it. The villagers have taken it upon their stride and do not usually complain unless their effort at irrigating the land is frequently stopped because of power outages. My friend who is not given to talking a lot sighed and said, “dili kaan? Aar jodi dili to nili kaan?” (Why did you give? And if you gave, why did you take it away?). I am aware of my friend Barkat’s philosophical flare. I knew what he meant and kept quiet wearing a smile on my face that could not be seen in the pitch darkness of the night.
Philosophy apart, I think it would not have been impossible if someone seriously tried to address the issue of the growing demand for electricity, the failure to supply it and do something to effect change. I am a firm believer in the fact that it was not because we did not have a way out of the ‘power’ impasse but because of the fact that successive governments did not want to address the issue that we have been thrown in to an insufferable situation today. They opted for a convenient way of looking away from the problem that would mean their confronting the rampant corruption that they were beneficiary of. The aggravating journey towards a point of no return was done wilfully.
As far back as in 1993 I had a meeting with a very senior official in the energy ministry. After the business discussions, I had asked him about the reason why at around 6/6.30 in the evening there was a half an hour power cut. I was then living in Uttara. So my specific query was about that area. He was a friend and confided that if his reading was right, within a couple of years power outages would not be confined to one or two localities, they would spread all over and eventually the entire nation would drown in darkness. When I asked him about the reason he told me that it was simply because no action was taken in terms of repairing, servicing or overhauling any of the power installations despite innumerable ‘notes’ of warning given by the people in charge. Now the problem has compounded manifold because of growth in demand and, I am told, illegal connections being obtained at domestic and commercial levels.
There was a time when 3000 mega watt of electricity would have been good enough. But we produced 2500. Then we reached the 3000 mark when the demand rose to 4000. Today with an output of nearly 6000 mega watt we are still short of the optimum of 6700 mw. I hope the people at the helm of affairs would attend to redress the problem by snapping all the illegal connections, the reason for the so-called ‘system loss’, and do the needful to add to adequate power generation. These are the most important and immediate responsibilities for the government.
Permit me, at this juncture, to enlarge on the philosophy that my friend’s grief contained in his words, ‘why did you give? And if you gave why did you take it away?’ This bit of my piece may sound very frivolous in the context of a problem that we have been confronted with and do not seem to have a routine answer at the moment but who wants to be always cowed down by problems that we do not know how to circumvent? So let us let go of our concerns, our sense of relevance, and our seriousness for the moment and indulge in something that would seem almost absurd. Let us surrender to the pleasures of life that the immortal Samuel Becket or Eugene Ionesco’s theatre of the absurd brings us. For, life indeed is a collection of compounded absurdity.
My friend Barkat’s words took me to a journey to the past. I lived most of my childhood, leading, up to my adolescence in the small towns of what was known as East Pakistan then. In those days, temperature used to be measured in Fahrenheit. It was not unusual to have temperatures measuring up to 100 and above very often in the summer. There was just one fan in our parent’s bedroom. We suffered through the summer turning and tossing on the bed at night. My eldest sister, who was much older than I, used to fan us with a hand fan once in a while. We suffered and ‘suffered’ not. I am not sure if we suffered because we never complained or talked about it. It seemed natural that summers would be like this. My father loved the English poets of the romantic period and when heat used to be almost suffocating he used to recite the famous lines of P. B. Shelley, “If winter (read summer) comes can spring (read monsoon) be far behind?”
I thought that perhaps summers during our younger days were in no way as oppressive as now until I read the other day in a Bangla daily that some of our hottest days were in 1956, 1960 and 1993. The question that seems relevant now is why some conditions that seemed natural only about a few decades ago seem unnatural now? I suppose the answer to that lies in the reflection that my friend made that evening back by the pond in my village, ‘if you gave why did you take it away?’ Is it that we took too much for granted?
I remember, years back, when Pakistan International Airlines had started a number of domestic flights to connect cities in the East and the West Pakistan, the Newsweek magazine had commented ‘Pakistanis have started flying before they have learnt to walk in their shoes.’ Is it the ‘shoe & plane’ syndrome that made our lives unbearable in this heat? Is it the increasing unplanned growth of our cities causing the shortage of electricity, gas and water, the thickening of the stone jungles as opposed to growth of natural vegetation, increase of atmospheric pollution, and most importantly; the overall declining quality of life that are ‘more’ the reasons for our misery?
May be we should pause to think and redress the situation slightly differently. How? Well, let me talk about that later!
Aly Zaker is among the leading personalities in Bangladeshi theatre, a renowned actor on stage and television as well as a noted ad-filmmaker.