Last night a transmitter in my area blew. And with a huge bang, the world went dark. It was a timely reminder of what is in everyone’s minds. ‘What if?’ What if during lockdown we are plunged into global and national 1990s? No working from home online. No online tutoring. No Netflix/YouTube/social media. No Zoom meetings. No online exercise classes. No Skype calls to loved ones. One can wonder how we survived those pre-internet days. But of course, we don’t miss what we never had. But we do have it now and we would so very much miss it.
In this hell called 2020, it would be so much harder to persuade children and young people to stay home without the internet. Naturally, there are some areas that are still without internet in Nepal, but here I am talking urban areas being policed well during the lockdown. And not just during lockdown—any time during a pandemic when many of us do not want to go out or send our children out as before—the internet will save us.
And then there is the darkness! I first came to Nepal as a tourist in 1990. Even in those days you were handed a candle at your hotel in Thamel. Having come from a country with 24/7 hydropower, candles were only used for romantic or celebratory occasions. So it was a bit of fun. Moving forward I lived in a rural area with no electricity. Kerosene lamps were the way to go. To this day I can recognize the taste of kerosene in food (yes, it happens). At some point, we installed solar panels in the kitchen and public areas. Solar panels some do-good—but not really thinking it through—NGO brought to the area to sell to locals. At Rs 8,000 a panel. How much kerosene could you buy in those days for Rs 8,000? So those panels were rejected by the locals and snatched up by hoteliers.
Moving forward again—hello Kathmandu 2000 and hello again candles! I have been in debate with someone as to when ‘load-shedding’ actually started in Nepal. Although electricity cuts where there for decades, I am told load-shedding started around 2006. (Sorry, I can’t fact-check as my electricity has gone off again and therefore my access to Google!) If you are new to Nepal (ie post 2016) you might well ask why ‘load-shedding’? Why not ‘electricity cuts’? ‘Power shortages’? Why is it called load-shedding? Actually it is literally shedding the load. The load being the burden of not having electricity. Yea, bit unclear in the English language sense. Kay garni.
At that time load-shedding timetables were introduced. Which were actually great! As long as you knew which area you were in, you could plan your work and going out around that schedule. Oddly, it’s the only thing in Nepal I have known to start and stop on time. They had that down to the minute! So we got used to living to a timetable and (still) buying candles. Remember those days of candlewax everywhere in your house? On the carpet, on the furniture, on your clothes? And remember that winter where there was only, if my memory serves me right, four hours of electricity a day? We all just gave up. Kinda like lockdown fatigue, we all sat in the sun twiddling our thumbs. Even for those fortunate few who had inverters, four hours was not enough time to recharge.
About two or three years after that I purchased a solar panel. Being used to the semi-darkness of candles, when the installation guy came I said it wasn’t necessary to install all the six (included in the price) lights. Four would do. ‘Oh no!’ said he and proceeded to put them in places he had learned from experience are the right locations and heights. I am grateful he did, because even in these days of electricity I used the solar lights daily.
Around 2015/16 we were again plunged into the cold and dark after the earthquake and blockade. With little gas available we bought electrical cooking appliances and thus started a new phase in Nepal urban life. At the same time came Kool Man who brought light to almost every corner of the country. We plugged ourselves into more internet /box tv/ fancy gadgets and kitchen appliances. It would be extremely hard to give those up now.