Power outages are common throughout India, some due to weak or faulty lines, some scheduled as a means to control overall demand, and still others due to acts of nature or negligence. As a result, most Indians have learned to take such small hurdles in stride. No shrieks of terror or cursing at unseen demons – mostly they continue with what they were doing, provided it does not involve the use of electrical devices, confident the nuisance will be remedied in good time.
I recently had a chance to witness this sang-froid firsthand. I was interviewing Ajaz Rasool, the Superintending Engineer for the efforts to preserve and conserve Dal Lake, in the tiny sitting room of the Kashmir Observer offices. We were sitting on opposite sides of a small wooden table, upon which we had been served tea. Two feet to my left were three windows thrown open to the dark and fresh Srinagar night and to the mountains beyond, where a thunderstorm was brewing.
A bronzed and hefty Kashmiri, Rasool is able to talk at length on various technical minutiae. After about an hour of his verbiage I was finally able to ask him why, if LAWDA has been doing all of this great work he'd been recounting, had the High Court come down so hard in its ruling the previous week?
“I’ll tell you what happened there,” he responded sharply, winding up for another long delivery as rain began tapping at the window. “They were saying that we’d only done part of the job. You see Dal Lake”...and then the power went off without warning. I blinked and looked up at the ceiling and started to apologize, but he went on undeterred...“is a shallow lake, and it has its own species of flora and fauna. There are so many varieties here that…”
I could not see six inches from my face, except when the lightning flashed, and this government official is sitting four feet away from me and talking as if we’re chatting under a sparkling noontime sky. “As a result, we have prolific growth of weeds and various reeds and other beds of various sorts.”
I smiled and almost giggled; how could I take notes? And now the storm has blown closer, the wind is whipping in through the open window and the lightning flashing every few seconds, lighting up his face and his hands, which he is employing as a complementary communicative tool, and his eyeglasses, which reflect my stunned face and the wondrously ridiculous scene back at me. Still he takes no note, and on and on he continues…
“And this growth creates a sea of aquatic fauna, so thick that it blocks the light of the sun and slows photosynthesis.” To a neophyte this seemed a contradiction, but there’s no way I was about to interrupt. “The reed belt in the northern part of the lake can just get out of control, and that’s why we have reed management, which is very difficult, and delicate.”
And by now my eyes had adjusted somewhat and I could see just how much he was using his hands to carry his shovel-fulls of BS across the small wooden table and into my field of vision, my notebook, and hopefully my article. His arms moving up and down, over his head and between his legs to accentuate points, and quite possibly waving planes into their assigned gates at Srinagar airport ten kilometers away.
“Just because the judge cannot see any difference in the underwater growth above the surface,” – the lights flickered on again -- “doesn’t mean we’re not making any headway.”
And Rasool leaned back and smiled broadly, pleased not only with his finely calibrated performance, evincing as it did his mastery over both the inadequacies of man and the power of nature, but also with that final punctuation mark, a viable for defense for millions of souls trying to prove they’re accomplishing something, anything, yet lack sufficient evidence.