Sunday 1st December

There was no telephone connection earlier today. The lines could be down for hours or days. This is not news- it has been happening for at least the last thirty years, but rather than the improvement that we should have witnessed with the development of systems and technology we find that the service is worse now than ever before. Telephone, water, electricity are all badly affected.

Indira spoke a few weeks ago about the struggle of everyday life. For several months the family have had no water supply. Every day the Derasar, the local temple, provides ten litres of water for free, for longstanding members; it takes more than one trip to transport this up to the family home. This is usually sufficient for the family’s daily needs, but on wash days they need to purchase water, sold by the gallon. Water for drinking or cooking with is boiled and poured through a muslin cloth into a barrel-shaped clay pot, the ‘matli’, which has a tap at the bottom. No fuss is made; contacting the water company has proved futile, as always. I cannot help but think that they need a mass effect, a large body of people who could take on the powerful companies. Here, there are websites acting as platforms for social change, and they are succeeding. Companies failing to make water available would be forced to capitulate: it just wouldn’t wash :-). It would, however, need to have impetus from outside: in parts of Africa they are all too busy carrying gallons of water.

One of my earliest memories is of the power cuts, which occurred not infrequently. We would be plunged into sudden darkness, and someone would be sent downstairs to the storeroom to fetch the gas lantern, while someone else would unlock the giant green metal cabinet which held the constantly replenished stock of candles. I remember spending the rest of one such evening perched with Ba, Indira and my mother on the large wooden swing on the balcony, listening to their quiet chatter, which was punctuated occasionally by a cackle of amused laughter from Ba. It is a rose-tinted memory, of course. They are likely to have been as disgruntled about missing their regular evening television show as the people who gathered indignantly on our London street earlier this year during a rare power shortage, muttering about missing ‘Strictly’. However, I do not think that I am imposing a sense of contentment on that memory- I think that was real, and came from being part of a family in happy times, telling stories to each other. This blog is my attempt at retelling the stories. A friend who e-mailed me last night explains it much more eloquently than I can: Once upon a time, long before books, we sat round fires with our extended families and told stories to each other which were passed down through generations and into which, I imagine, each generation wove their own histories and interpretations. Then we started writing things down and they became standardised and authoritative and lost their fluidity and immediacy and perhaps their relevance too. Now that we are scattered across oceans and timezones, blogs are in some ways the closest thing we have to that tradition (Elinor Brown).


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