A day after the whole of Northern India suffered a massive power outage, it was the turn for the East to go through the same ordeal. Around 1:30 pm on Tuesday, I get a text message from a well-placed source in the power sector, saying that the Eastern grid has collapsed and that yesterday’s incident would now be repeated in the East. I announced this to my co-workers in the newsroom who immediately called up their family members back home to confirm. Affirmative.
The huge digital generator whirred to life, perhaps after ages. You see, Kolkata is not a city that has seen rotational ‘load shedding’ often. News came pouring in from various quarters about blackouts, how people were suffering at home and how, the chief minister announced an early off for government officials. The TV blared regional news in the newsroom. That was the background noise for a long, long time.
Soon, it was time to leave and while the rest of the gang speculated if they should leave or wait till power was restored, I gathered my stuff and walked out, not knowing if I should take the Metro or just plain cab it.
I decided to walk till Janbazar just to check the power situation. Thankfully, it hadn’t gotten dark as yet. Shopkeepers lit up candles and sold their wares. Their high-pitched voices often made me trip on the busy and darkening sidewalk. Janbazar was an island of light. The smell of spices, fish, oil lamps and candle wax was overwhelming. The hurried feet – people rushing home – were madly chaotic. There was so much urgency. People screaming into their phones, trying to be heard above the din. There were warnings of storing drinking water as there was no certainty when power would finally be restored.
I found an auto that rushed me off to Park Street – a dark island. The hum of the generator and the smell of diesel greeted me. It was completely dark now. Only a few shops were lit. Many switched to back-up power. Street-side book vendors relied on candles.
There were long shadows that were cast on the walls. Ghoulish, dark and ominous. I slipped into Oxford Bookstore for some coffee and snacks.
The sweltering heat was unbearable in the store. It wasn’t crowded, exactly, but just one AC and the humidity outside was quite an oppressive deal.
12 hours more, read the text message from the source in the power sector. I was one of the lucky few to have an inverter at home. I recalled that with the amount of charge it has, it should be able to last me the night. It was just 7:30 in the evening. As I was engrossed in my thoughts, I didn’t notice that two large houseflies were silently devouring my sandwich, bits by microscopic bits. A surge of nausea shook me. I turned to look at the next table. Around two dozen of them were feeding on the breadcrumbs that the earlier occupants had left behind. Aaaarrrgh!
I left the store in exactly five minutes.
I walked till Burlington’s to get the auto to Park Circus. There was a queue. Strange. This is not the usual auto stoppage. I finally caught the fourth auto after elbowing away eager passengers. No, eager ain’t the right word. It should’ve been hostile. And obsessively hostile.
The auto rumbled along the bumpy Eliot Road, over tramlines, dodging non-functional signals and paying no attention whatsoever to the screaming traffic police. The dark alleyways were positively scary. There was not a soul in sight. Only the tram lines glistened in the waxing moonlight.
After a ride that shook my innards, I reached Park Circus. Now here’s where most vehicles converge and it’s easy to get one that takes you virtually any corner of the city. Sadly, that day, the roads were silent. The growing bunch of dissatisfied passengers could easily have been a mob. Suddenly, the buses came thundering along, ready to plough anyone or anything that happened to get between its wheels. No, they didn’t stop at their designated halts. People scampered to get hold of the handlebars so they could lift themselves into the moving vehicle. There was this man who was successful in doing that but the conductor grabbed his arm and gave him a hard push. I was aghast. The bus was bursting at its seams. Logic told me that such an overcrowded bus would not be able to accommodate even a fly. However, the way the man was spurned by the conductor made my hair stand.
The mob got angrier by the minute. Tempers were flared as the clock ticked away. There were loud curses being hurled at no one in particular. A couple of taxis came along. Arms were raised to hail them. Thankfully, they stopped. Only the cabbies demanded a sum of anything between Rs 25 and 30 for 500 metres. The doors were shut with loud bangs. The gathering grew in number. I felt overpowered by their muscle and anger. They could erupt any moment.
Next came along the autos. They quadrupled their fare but by now, the excited mob was exhausted. Some gave in, paying Rs 30 from Park Circus till Ballygunge Phari. The rest jostled in impatient, blurting a string of expletives at, again, no one in particular.
The situation was getting dicey. It was pitch dark save for the lights on the passing cars. Of course, the trident lights were on but they cast only a pale moonlightish glow.
A tram came clambering along. Most people didn’t pay any heed to it fearing that if the electric lines snap, there’d be no way out of it. I decided to brave it. I propped myself up on the foot board and breathed a sigh of relief. As the tram moved away, I looked back to see the mob bursting out in fury. Buses and cabs were stopped and people forced themselves into the vehicles. There was loud screaming and even the sound of breaking glass. My stoppage drew nearer.
However, I noticed this strange thing. The occupants of the tram were motionless. No one moved. No one said a word. As if in a trance, under a spell. The conductor sounded the bell. The spell was broken. One turned. He had two slimy blobs of whitish goo instead of eyes.
DISCLAIMER: This is a highly imaginative piece! Any resemblance to any characters living or dead is purely incidental!!!