I was in my room getting my daily dose of adrenaline by watching All of us are dead on Netflix. Thaththi was seated on the couch, disappointed at the fielding of the Sri Lankan cricket team in their match against Australia. Ammi was engaging in a series of phone calls with her colleagues who didn’t seem to grasp work too easily. The clock we barely looked at, now struck 7.40pm. Suddenly all I heard was my mother still on the phone, and ASMR of zombies eating people every ten seconds on Netflix. Once again, the Ceylon Electricity Board ‘disempowered’ us.
Minutes later, the string of allegations against the government, their families and their extended families began primarily between my father and I (which my mother was actively avoiding). A crash course on macroeconomics, comparative analysis of other countries versus Sri Lanka in terms of infrastructure meandered into the conversation. Additionally, the idea of visiting the office of immigration was re-visited for a moment. Subsequently it shifted to a timely history lesson on how my parents had to be without electricity at random during the JVP riots. After a series of unhealthy debates this conversation ended after 15 minutes with my father’s uncalled for political satire at the Baiyas on their unpalatable failure at running a country (which felt nearly an hour). If conversations during Sri Lankan power outages were a food item, I’d compare it to a packet of Tipi Tip. They are generally perceived to be full to the brim externally, but it’s only half full causing it to be over in a matter of few minutes.
The next phase of the outage is what I term as an awkward off brand version of A quiet place. After a heated debate on contemporary and historical issues, the endurance of the entire family winds down to a net zero. This phase lasts for about 30 minutes to one hour. In my case, my toxic relationship with the household geckos and other invertebrates come to life. I begin to level criticism against the horrendous out of pitch singing/croaking of geckos. What would’ve typically been inaudible sounds are now amplified causing it to feel like a live concert in my mind. From a spoon falling in the neighbour’s house to pole cats running in our back garden, everything feels loud. The general quarrels of neighbours continue, which I face immense difficulty from not eavesdropping (but end up subscribing to keeping up with the eha gedaras). Meanwhile, my father begins his journey of taking screenshots of recent trending anti-government quotes and CEB memes on Facebook and forwarding them to all his WhatsApp groups from what little phone battery he had left. My mother’s rendezvous of schooling her colleagues whilst balancing a couple of onions on her hand (cause of another emotional moment) continues. This phase can extend for about an hour provided that the power outage continues unannounced.
The last phase can only be described as unathletic people running the last few laps of a Steeplechase. It is during this period that the fine line between love and hate is emulated within the household. The love for our analog clock on the off-white wall is felt unconditionally as the three of us periodically stare at it until it strikes the deadline for the electricity to retrieve. Once the deadline draws nearer, all three of us begin to lash out with hate towards the clock on its ability to run faster. Parallelly, you may find my mother re-enacting the fanning scene of Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, my father reiterating the failures of the country (including the Australia versus Sri Lanka cricket match), and lastly myself seated on a bed like a potato awaiting a flying saucer to abduct me. Weariness that comes with power outages causes all three of us to slowly scrape biscuits off the tin and gulp down liters of water as though it never existed.
After two and a half hours, the house finally lights up like a church during Christmas minus the nativity. Traditionally, my family keeps the circuits of almost all living spaces and rooms on to help in indicating that power is back. Due to this factor, we become much like a deer in headlights situation once electricity is retrieved. This is also met with sighs of relief coupled with the happiness of being able to charge all our existing electronic devices. Followingly the realization that life can continue as earlier dawns on us, and we go on with our lives until we meet the next power cut which is due in approximately twelve hours.
The incidence of power outage in Sri Lanka isn’t uncommon. My toddler days were filled with paper fans and my parents doing their best to replicate portable wind turbines to keep me from sweating bullets. Aside from cricket matches and elections, power outages truly bring out the spirit of what it means to live and endure a ‘Sri Lankan life’. While the frustrations of not being of able to carry out our daily work can be justified, it also sheds light on our ability to be consistent with our concerns. Statistically it takes a bell curve, metaphorically it can be synonymized to a packet of Tipi Tips. Which brings me to my greatest question, were we disempowered all along? Or is the CEB the only entity that has the capacity to due do so?
– Rtr Shihara Ferdinando
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