Lights Out!

Hand Shadow Puppets: (not my own image)

Hand Shadow Puppets: (not my own image)

Our close friends dropped by on Friday to see Caleb (he’s on the mend, thanks!).
You know how it is with friends – a doctor’s visit soon turned into dinner around our table. When the kids were frolicking in the hall, they switched off the hall lights, switched on a torch and started making shadow puppets on the wall.
The sudden darkness accompanied by their squeals of delight took me back to Bombay in the 1980s…

Picture this:
May in Mumbai. The height of summer. Sweltering 35°C days rolling into muggy nights. May meant school holidays with endless games of Chor Police (Cops & Robbers) that were punctuated by “water-breaks” thanks to the soul-sapping humidity. May meant crates of succulent Aphoos mangoes and gulmohar trees ablaze with Flame of the Forest flowers. May meant walking to the corner shop for a pepsi (no, not the drink but an ice-lolly) resulted in beads of sweat inching down our backs.
Now picture all this without electricity…

Bombay summers have always been peppered with power cuts.
A necessary step to cope with the stretched-to-breaking-point overload on the power grids. So with a flick of a switch, our entire suburb’s electric supply would be down. Often done at nightfall to make it more bearable, it was a part and parcel of our childhood.

All at once, our TV sets (remember Doordarshan?) and lights would zap out. Ceiling fans (no middle-class family had aircon then; everyone does today) that were whirling at full speed, would groan to a halt – just like us.

Mums lit the taper candles that were kept in a fixed spot for such emergencies. Grandmas quickly whipped out their pretty bamboo fans to ensure that sleeping babies weren’t woken up from their deep sleep. Us kids killed time by making paper fans folded concertina-style.

Time s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d on – each second amplified by our wall clock as it tick-tocked, tick-tocked away. Funny now that same sound barely registered in the busyiness of daily life, but was so audible in the still of the night.

We distracted ourselves by making hand shadow puppets. They danced on the wall in the halo of candlelight. A dog woofing, a bird flying, an old man’s face, a bunny hopping…

Mum would go down memory lane, recounting stories of how her generation grew up without electricity in the 1950s – homework and household chores were all done by the light of Petromax lamps. Unfathomable to my brother and me.

Under this blanket of darkness, our neighbourhood shook off its social constraints. The men would mill around for a chit-chat and a Gold Flake cigarette in their gunjis (singlets) and shorts.
Kids would follow suit, excited to be up beyond bedtime, senses awakened.
Ears perked up to sound of infants crying and stray dogs barking…
Eyes mapped the constellations and shooting stars across the sky…
Noses drank in the sweet scent of the Raat ki Rani (Queen of the Night) wafting across the balmy night…

As the night wore on, ladies perspired, men sweated it out and children grew tetchy.
To escape the stifling humidity, we sometimes trudged all the way to the top of our six-storeyed building to sleep on the terrace under the stars. Of course, sleep was the last thing on our minds when ghost stories and guessing games ensued.

All at once, the electricity was restored. A collective “Oooooh!” echoed through the neighbourhood as fans and lights came to life while candles were snubbed out. And we gratefully returned to our sweet dreams and slumber…

So tell me, were power cuts a regular occurrence during your childhood? Did you ever make shadow puppets?

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5 responses to “Lights Out!

  1. Brings back memories! It used to happen in the monsoon as well but summer time was the worst. I had forgotten about all those shadows we used to have fun making with my family. Fun times!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Our Never-ending Story | liaisonwithalison·

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