A shopkeeper changes the time on a clock in Lahore June 1, 2008. Pakistan put its clocks forward an hour on Sunday while shops have been ordered to close early as the country struggles with an acute electricity shortage. Setting clocks forward by an hour, to six hours ahead of GMT, should enable the country to take advantage of an extra hour of daylight in the evenings and save power. REUTERS/Stringer (PAKISTAN)
By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS
Has it happened to you that you wake up in the morning already running a little late and realize that there is no electricity? Or that your favorite show is about to start and you get ready with your tea or coffee and sit down to watch it when all of a sudden you are staring at a snowing screen? And I am sure you have experienced something similar to a time when you are invited to a function or a wedding and while you are getting ready the electricity gives out on you. We are all well aware that make up tends to be extremely scary if applied in the dark. So, what do you do in a situation like this? Well, there is a lot one can do. In our society the kind of situation that we are facing people have made their own ways to deal with these uncomfortable and sometimes extremely difficult situations.
Everything we have mentioned is the relatively lighter side of not having electricity. We are still lucky enough to either have generators or UPS or some of us have rechargeable lights and fans. Sure it’s not the same as having the full on convenience of electricity but it is still better than nothing. There are people out there who don’t even have that. There are people who die from the heat. There are people who suffer illnesses and other major problems, lacking fans or any means of cooling themselves down.
To give some perspective I have a small story.
The Heavier Side of Life
Just recently I hired a maid, who would come every morning, clean the house and leave. She was a young girl of 14 or 15 not more than that. Every day she would get done with the work and come to me and ask me if there is something else she could do for me. I would tell her that she could leave once she was done cleaning but every day she would come and ask me if there was anything else. When I told her that was it she would ask me if I wanted her to massage my feet, or if I wanted that drawer on my dresser cleaned out. I didn’t understand why she wanted to do extra work without being asked to do so. Being confused for a long time I finally asked a friend about this strange behavior. She simply said she must be looking for some extra money. She must be thinking that by doing your other small chores you might give her some extra money. But I had not given her any extra money and she had not even asked for it. I still was not satisfied. One day when she was fixing my shoe closet after I had told her she could go I asked her. I said, “Why do you insist on staying here even after I have told you that you can go home? Don’t you like it in your own house?” Without even looking at me she said in a very matter of fact way that it was because I had fans working all the time. I am one of the lucky ones who have a UPS, so even if the electricity goes the fans are still working. She did not want to go home because she did not have a way of even slightly comforting herself when the electricity was taken away in this scorching heat of Lahore.
I was taking a stroll in my neighborhood where I noticed 2 small boys playing, not wearing anything. I looked around to see if I could find their mother. I saw a woman standing nearby I went up to her and asked her if she knew the boys. She said she was their big sister. She told me that they live in the street next to mine and the boys were playing here so she came to watch them. I asked her why they were not wearing any clothes. She replied that they had developed rashes and hives because of the heat and the doctor had suggested to not let any fabric touch them and keep them cool so that’s why every day the sun goes down they let them play out for a while. It was around sixish–the sun was down but there was no wind whatsoever. I said to her that this is probably not such a good idea since it’s still not cool enough and their rashes could get aggravated maybe keeping them inside under a fan is a better idea. She said yes that’s what we were doing until yesterday when the lights went out in the morning and came back at 8 in the evening. Today she said is a repeat of yesterday, as far as we are concerned this is the coolest it’s going to be for them today.
Even worse, there are many people who die because of this heat and not having enough water to drink and a cool shade to lie under their bodies cannot handle it. God knows what will be the end result of all this. It is interesting how we have electricity shortage which is directly related to water shortage and our leaders are discussing whether making a new dam is a good idea or not. I wonder what makes them think this question is even up for debate. I wonder what makes them think that they can decide not to make damns and help generate more electricity. They can do this because they do not have shortage of electricity or water, or anything else that they might need for comfortable living.
Doing Business in the Dark
It would be very correct to assume that the businesses and the marketplace must be suffering greatly because of this problem. I wanted to know how they deal with this problem. The day I visited to talk to them at Jahangir Sons Bookstore they were facing an especially bad day. I was told that electricity had been shutting down every half hour. They said that our generator has been on for a whole day. The manager told me that the business is good but with the cost of generator it is becoming hard to make ends meet considering the growing prices of food as well. He said that it is so costly to keep the generator on all day that some times they think of closing early just to avoid the cost “but then its hard to do that when you are running a business and you know customers are counting on you”, adds the manager.
Bareeze’ in Liberty market has the same story. Of course their store is well known and they have more customers so it is not such a big issue for them. Surprisingly most shops and stores I spoke to in Liberty market didn’t complain much electricity problems in that area. They said that they had times load shedding which they had generators for so it was working out fine. Most of them however shifted quiet quickly to the situation at their homes and their neighborhoods. They were quick to tell me that this electricity problem was a menace in their homes. Most of them told me that electricity would be shut off for about 2 hours at a time in their homes. One cashier said that it’s terrible when his children come home from school all tired and sweating and they don’t even have a fan to rest under when they get home.
While I was talking to the cashier at Stylo shoestore a lady who was standing line right behind me (I ended up buying shoes while I was there) overheard our conversation and chimed in saying that sometimes she leaver her house when there is no light because there is an AC in her car and the stores are usually more comfortable than the house under the circumstances. I asked her what about her kids and other members of the family. She laughed and said I don’t do it every day. “Do know how much patrol is these days?” of course I know how high those prices are too. But it is sad when people are looking for ways to find comfort and relief in any way possible. I had heard of driving the baby around the block in the car to put him to sleep but this was something new for me. Is this going too far? Under these circumstances who knows what is going too far and what is not we are all doing the best we can to survive these days.
Beauty Parlors are also suffering because of this problem. Their business mostly relies on electricity. Sometimes even if they have generators they cannot use too many of their electrical tools because of too much load on the generator machine. Now when you get an appointment at a salon and ask them how long the procedure will take they give you an estimated time and always ad depending on the electricity so do come prepared for that. And usually they are right, usually the electricity goes and the customer has to wait that much longer to be done with whatever they are their to get done. A hair salon owner told me that these days rebonding is next to impossible because “we need electricity to use the straightened and we never know when we will have light and when we will not. Many times we can use generators but we cannot power so many things on one machine so it becomes a dilemma to cater to more then one customer at a time”.
A tailor who owns a small shop in the basement of a busy market told me that his business has been cut in half because of the electricity problem. Now he says I don’t take on too much work because I know I will not be able to complete it. I can’t afford a generator and when I don’t take enough work I don’t even make enough to feed my family. “When women come in here with a lot of clothes to get sown and tell me that they need it in a week I tell them its not possible. So, they take their clothes to a bigger shop that has a generator and can sow their clothes in less amount of time”. This tailor is forced to take less work and even with that work he struggles to finish in the time he has given his customers with the electricity playing hide and seek constantly. Just recently this tailor fired his assistant because he couldn’t afford to pay him any more. He says things don’t seem to be getting any better. Now he is working hard and trying to save up as much as possible. I asked him what he was saving up for…he said he wants to save up enough to be able to buy a generator. He thinks once he has a generator all his problems will be solved.
I guess there is something to be said about the power of generators. An O level student expressed his opinion when asked how he deals with not having electricity especially during exams by saying; “Generator Zindabad!” then he added that his neighbors keep the generators on all the time since it is convenient and they find it cheaper then electricity. Of course this was in Karachi where things are a bit more difficult in terms of electricity problems. I asked this young man what they do in school when there is no electricity. He said you just get used to it. When asked about how the learning process is in the heat he said, “I don’t think I learn anything in the heat. I mean the teachers are teaching but I don’t retain anything.” I asked him why and he said, “Because it’s HOT”.
An O level student who is my relative messaged me one day out of the blue. I asked her what’s up and why she is messaging me she said she was bored and just wanted to see what was up with me. That was not a normal thing for her to do so but I was glad that she had thought of messaging an old person like me just to chit chat. After a while of massaging back and forth she abruptly said that she had to go. I asked her what the hurry was and she said “the electricity is back I gotta go study for my exams who knows how long we have this luxury for”. Basically she was killing time talking to me while she was waiting for the electricity to come back so she could get back to her studying. While it made me feel not so great about myself it made me think of how time we waste because we have no way of utilizing it while the electricity is gone.
Time Goes On
Have you noticed how everything stops as the lights go out? Whatever people are doing they just drop it and start to look around waiting for the lights to come back on. If you are reading a book you will stop and spend at least a few minutes thinking about what you should do now. Very few times you will get an answer because there is very little that can be done in the dark. Even while taking an exam the lights go and everyone stops. There is pin drop silence. And as soon as the lights are back even if it’s five minutes to turn on the generators the students start to ask for more time for the loss of time because of the electricity. I guess the point I am trying to make is that we are wasting collective time of our nation. Nothing gets done while there is no light. Even if there are generators and UPS there are minimal things running and very little that can be done. Children can’t get on the computer and research for their homework. Businesses can’t use credit cards. Schools and colleges have teachers leaving classroom without teaching because it’s too hot for them to bear.
All of this makes us miss time to do things. We take much longer to accomplish things now compared with before because of the shortage of electricity. Our productivity as a nation is going down because out of the 8 hours we barely have 1 or 2 in which the work can actually get done. The problem is that it may seem like that the whole world is on stand still while the electricity is gone, that’s really not the case. Only we are on stand still. While we are waiting for the lights to turn back on time and life is passing us by. We wait and then we start the work while someone somewhere else started the work without any weight. Of course at the end of the day that person will take the fruits of the hard work we were not able to put in. Time goes on but we stay on a stand still by force. Does that seem fair at all?
People have turned this thing into a joke as well you will hear a person saying that well this is our government’s way of telling us to slow down. It is an automatic break even if one doesn’t want it. Well, if you one does not need a break it is better not to take one. And if we keep taking breaks at this speed there will be a time when there won’t be any work left for us because we would be devoured by the more powerful and strong. We have lost so many hours of our lives to this terrible menace of our society and we have no idea how many more we still have to lose.
We Know the Problem, Who Knows the Solution?
We have discussed what kind of problems are taking place in our society because of lack of electricity. Actually everything that we have mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that is going that if we tried to put all of this in one piece of writing it would go on forever. So, we will leave the description of the problem at this point and try to invest the leftover energy in figuring out how we can get to a solution. The question is this is a nationwide problem so to get this solved who do we go to? Do we try to track down the government officials and ask them what should be done? But we have heard plenty of them on television saying that there is nothing that can be done because this shortage of resource is worldwide and everyone feels it. However, we don’t see the rest of the world complaining and suffering from the consequences as we are.
Another thing comes to mind when we talk about looking up a solution. How about those heavily lighted stores and billboards? Yes I think that could be a valid misuse of electricity especially in a time where electricity is a scarce commodity. We see billboards lighted with hundreds of bulbs and we see big hotels and restaurants using up more energy and light than a small town. The first thing that needs to be done is to control the use of access energy anywhere that it is seen.
The problem with our nation is that we expect our government or our officials to do everything for us. We do not take responsibility for our own selves. I think if we really want to solve this problem we can by taking some extra interest and getting involved. The first thing that you can do to help is get your neighbors together and start a campaign in your neighborhood on not using electricity unnecessarily; For example extra lighting around the entire house of street on weddings, etc. Then you can convince your neighbors to go to the nearest restaurants and hotels and talk to their owners and managers and convince them to use less energy. Of course this will not be easy but if you go as a group and show your strength they might have to listen. It might be that you will have to visit them again and again to really get the point across but the trip is worth taking…don’t you think? Keeping with the same spirit you can talk to store owners and shopkeepers around your area to conserve energy. This may not make a huge difference but imagine if each small town and neighborhood started these small campaigns, together we could save so much more than we realize right now.
Another thing that can be really helpful on a personal level and for one’s own household is to always turn off extra lights and use the least amount of energy in the few hours that the electricity is actually available. This is another good way of saving because majority of the houses started to watch how and where they spend their energy it would make a great difference in the overall outcome.
You know as well as I do that everything I am telling you are things that are part of long term planning. While it would be great if we started to do all these things and doing them will definitely make a difference it is also important to note that change does not occur over night. So, as far as now and here is concerned we are stuck with this problem and our leaders and rulers cannot seem to give us any answers. So, what do we do? We be patient and pray to Allah for that day when we have some control over our lives and we can make positive decisions to change the course of our lives as a nation.