At Home in the Dark

July 17, 2013

At home in the dark
When the candle flame flickers on the wall during a spell of load-shedding, it may actually evoke your creative side, says Shankar Bhattacharya

It’s a much-awaited Saturday evening. You look forward to a nice, cozy curl-up on the sofa, with a racy book or a tingling detective video film to keep you company. But all of a sudden the lights go off. You grit your teeth hard for you know what’s in store - total darkness and no fan, no AC, sweating it out in a dark room in front of the forlorn glow of a candle. Watching a film is out and so is browsing. So think of what good you can do… think of something cheerful…
You see your shadow dancing on the wall, massive and dark, and you change postures to see how it varies. A whole lot of shadowy figures appear out of nowhere pervading your house - your mother, father, sister, brother all lost in that mystic world. Just at a time when you are beginning to feel bored, you discover a whole new world unfolding before your eyes.
Just one candlestick in a dark room can do wonders. Do you know that in the faint glow of a candle you can take some of the best black-and-white photographs of your loved ones? I know a couple who spent the dreadful hours of load shedding taking each other’s photos in candlelight. Sometimes darkness makes you feel more comfortable.
Remember how the couple confessed their guilt to each other, each time the current went off in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story “A Temporary Matter”? The white nights bathed in neon-tubes are too blatant, too insensitive to nuances - not only of light and shade but also of human feelings. The guilt and wrongdoings we are apt to hide in the blinding exposure of electricity, come out easily in darkness. Imagine yourself facing your mother, confessing about all the classes you bunked to hang out with your friends, all the bucks you spent on telephone calls. Isn’t it so much easier in the faint warm glow of a candle than when you are placed under the blaze of a harsh electric light?
A burning candle, flickering in the wind, attracting insects in hordes to jump into its intoxicating flame is in itself sufficient stuff to keep the philosopher in you thought-filled. Oh those delicate bodies poised on flimsy, transparent wings, circling round and round the flames, creating an odd, whirring noise in the absolute silence!
In load shedding you also take a refuge from noise, from the constant sounds of electric fan that are so inextricably linked with our urban life. We hear our neighbour’s voices, perhaps a child’s laughter or a baby’s cry or the melody of a sweet voice - not on the CD-player but from the next door house. In the sound of silence we feel the warmth of human company. We open the door of our house and stroll outside to catch some fresh air and suddenly we run into our next door neighbour. A conversation which begins with “How are you” that lasts almost a couple of hours or at least until the electricity comes back to throw us back into the fold of our busy urban life… Ma rushes into the kitchen to cook the dinner in haste, father once again becomes the bespectacled academician immersed in his studies, Didi starts completing her half-done homework.
I suddenly remember that it was also during another spell of load-shedding when we last had a conversation with this neighbour…
“For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles” (Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie)

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