Some people have a way with words. They paint vivid images that transport us into their world and take us on a voyage into their experiences.
I had a similar experience when I sat listening to my friend who was describing her days that reminded me of the yesteryears.
She and her extended family were stuck in a house in a relatively dry area in flood-ravaged Kerala, a southern Indian state. Her relatives had moved in with them as their ancestral house was getting flooded. The head of the family was a sprightly, nonagenarian matriarch — her grandma. Just as they were settling in, having decided to wait for the waters to recede, there was a power outage. What they didn’t anticipate was that the blackout would last for five days.
Imagine a life without electricity, how powerless will that render us! To my surprise, my friend was unfazed and had a happy, dreamy look face as she continued to narrate the story. It was life in reverse gear, travelling back in time, to a time when there was no electricity. The first two days were spent in adapting to the situation and mainly in fishing out relics and antiques that were stored away for posterity. Out came stuff like lamps, grinding stones, bucket and rope to draw water from the well, iron box that works on hot charcoals, among others.
A calamity brought them together. A power outage brought a retro life that helped in the bonding.
Everyone was rudely reminded of how dependent we are on electricity and how we take it for granted, and waste it. A wake-up call indeed!
Water had to be drawn from the well for all purposes. Initially, children were enthusiastic about drawing water, but soon it waned as the strain told on shoulders and arms. Mixers and blenders too wouldn’t work, so grinding stone, mortar and pestle were the only recourse. The hands that turned knobs were now powdering grains with big pestles or pounders (Ulakka) and employing the roller stone (ammi) to grind the spices. The whir of the mixers was replaced with the rhythmic sound of pounding.
There was freshly cooked food every day, for every meal. The refrigerator became a mere cupboard. The ingredients came from the field around the house: jackfruits, papayas, drumsticks, tapioca, colocasia and yams helped make some wonderful traditional dishes. Washing and drying of clothes too was another manual chore. Children found delight in hanging clothes on the clothesline, tied from one tree to another. They were also tasked with gathering the clothes at the first drop of rain.
Whole new experience
It was a thrilling experience for the millennials who used to remain indoors in the company of gadgets. Mobiles and other devices had run out of power, but they didn’t seem to miss them either. The power outage made them realise the importance of connecting with people in real-life.
At nights when oil lamps, candles and the moon brought light, everybody sat around and talked. Yes, just talked. Grandma had many tales to tell and retell — of times gone by, of people lost to time, of the joys and sorrows that life bestowed… sometimes there would be a sparkle and sometimes a tear in those eyes.
The other elders too had their share of stories. The sessions that ran late into the night seemed to ease all the tiredness and fatigue from the manual work during the day. When the floodwaters started receding, there was news that the power would be restored soon. But nobody seemed too enthused as they had started enjoying the retro life, with uncles, aunts, cousins and grandma — all under one roof. Grandma kept repeating how exciting it was to have her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren around her.
A calamity brought them together. A power outage brought a retro life that helped in the bonding. “We need to do this more often,” one of them said, echoing the sentiments of all.
Well, there were a few tough goodbyes!
— Annie Mathew is an educator and freelance writer based in Dubai.