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Cover Story

Nightmares in the Dark

Elita Karim
Photos: zahedul i khan

The last couple of weeks, we have been close to experiencing a miracle. Colonies, residential areas, commercial buildings, grocery stores and shopping complexes have had the minimum amount of load-shedding, compared to the months earlier. Areas where electricity would be cut off for six to nine hours a day, are now experiencing only two to four hours of load-shedding. Given the past record, it all seems a little too good to be true. For most city dwellers the lack of power has become a way of life, forcing them to adjust as they always do.

The government's solution, however, to the electricity crisis has been devised at the cost of forgoing yet another basic necessity. Recently, the government issued an order to close down CNG pump stations from 3 pm to 9 pm so as to conserve electricity. Undoubtedly, this move has worked wonders in terms of providing the much needed electricity to homes and offices. But it has also given birth to a new set of problems for the city dwellers. In Dhaka, a new breed of traffic jam now starts from around 12 pm which continues till 3 pm a big line of CNG-run autorickshaws, private cars and mini vans all clutter together for fuel all over the city creating havoc for pedestrians and other vehicles on the streets as well. The same scene is seen again after 9 pm, which continues till after midnight in many areas.

There are many who believe that the electricity crisis will hit the country again, starting from the beginning of the Eid shopping season and beyond. Students, especially, believe that the current solution is a temporary one and also fear that the load-shedding situation will crawl back to square one right after Ramadan. Itrat Hosssain studies in the second semester at the American International University of Bangladesh (AIUB). He got done with his midterm exams at university just a few weeks ago and according to him, that particular exam week was an extremely difficult one. “We usually have exams one after the other and rarely get a day or more between for studying,” explains Itrat. “By the time I would finish my exam and come home, it would be 8 pm. With no electricity, I could not start studying for the next day. Ultimately, I would start studying after 12 am and finish my revision after 4 am. This had actually become a routine for me and many of my friends at one point. We don't have any generator at home and the IPS that we had does not work now. We never had enough electricity to keep our IPS or the charge lights at home charged up and ready for use.” Itrat says that even though the situation is slightly better now, he wonders if he and his friends will have to return to their old fate of being deprived of electricity, after Ramadan.

However, Md. Ataul Masud, the Managing Director of Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) believes that electricity production has definitely increased and will increase much more in the later months. “At least 6 percent of the gas is now being redirected towards power stations outside Dhaka, which have greatly improved the situation in many residential areas in the country,” he says. “I hope that if we can continue this level of production even after Ramadan and produce at least a 100 watt more every day, load-shedding will come down to almost a negligible amount.”

“I don't think the situation has actually improved much, since I see no increase in the production of electricity,” says an official from the Electricity Generation Company of Bangladesh (EGCBL), requesting anonymity. “Many of the residential areas are now suffering less than before maybe because of the fact that the CNG pump stations stay closed for six hours. But that is just a substitution of location, not increase in production of electricity.”

Studying in the dark.

People living in the slum areas have gone through a nightmare when they faced months of electricity crisis along with water crisis as well. Day labourers and young children would often fall sick because of the heat and lack of clean water.

“By the time I return home, it is always dark and hot,” says Khadeja Begum, a domestic worker who lives in the Norda slums. “I work in a few homes in Baridhara and Kala Chandpur from 12 pm and I finish at around 8 pm every day,” she says. “My niece stays with me and helps me around the house.” Khadeja and her niece live in a one-room tin-shed house, which protects them from the rain, if not the heavy showers. However, what drove them crazy the last few months were the load-shedding and the unavailability of water. “But ever since Ramadan started, the electricity situation seems to be better,” says Khadeja. “We have a ceiling fan which works and we can also get the community water pump working again. We hope it stays this way.”

The patients in hospitals are probably in a worse condition. A doctor not wanting to be identified, from the gynaecology department at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) says that she has not faced a lot of electricity problems at the hospital in recent times. “However, there was a time a few months ago when even we at the DMCH would go through hours of load-shedding,” she says. “Sometimes we would not have electricity for three to four hours at a stretch. The power from the generator would reach only the operation theatres and emergency divisions.”

The authorities would be very happy with Belal Islam Tapan, who has gone as far as singing to solve the electricity crisis in his home. Tapan lives in North Badda and is the proud creator of an innovative routine in his building. Every night after a candle-light dinner with his family, Tapan, along with his two children Sabiha and Shanto and the neighbour's children as well, would go up to the roof top and have their very own music soiree. “It is too hot inside the house and we would not have electricity up to two hours at a time,” says Tapan. “So a few of us would go up to the rooftop and talk, sing and sometimes have late night tea as well.” Tapan does admit that on school nights it would get a little difficult for the children since they would also have to study and do their daily homework, but according to the children, a night out on the roof top would be far better than spending a sweaty and hot one inside their study rooms.

Clearly, nobody wants to go back to the dark ages. While some think back to their days of suffering, others try to come up with innovative ideas to keep themselves busy and survive in bliss, ignoring the lapse of light and energy. The electricity crisis has stopped life and slowed us down considerably. Moving back to a life without power would be like stepping backwards in time, instead of moving forward with the rest of the world.

Candle-light dinner(left). Community Service: Residents get together to start a service where a common generator is used to generate electricity in several homes and shops during load-shedding. Each family or shop pays around Tk 200 or more depending upon electricity consumption.

Blackout Blues

Most shops and grocery stores operate by charger lights because of frequent load-shedding.

Anika Hossain

A day in the life of an average Dhakaite is something like this: you wake up in the morning and walk into the bathroom to brush your teeth and take a refreshing shower before your day begins, but wait, you can't. There is no water. Luckily, you were warned in advance so you have water stored, but you don't want to use it all, just in case your water supply has been cut off for the rest of the day (possibly longer). You swallow your irritation and leave the house for work/school, etc. Although you have an hour left before you are scheduled to arrive, you are stuck in unbelievable stand-still traffic with nothing to do but fume, wishing you could break every car in sight or scream at the top of your lungs at someone, just to vent. When you finally make it to your destination, you realise, to put the cherry on the cake, there is no electricity. The generator can only work for so long before it runs out of steam and you are left to boil in the scorching summer heat. After a fairly unproductive day, you take a deep breath and dive into the sea of vehicles, hoping to reach home at a decent hour. You arrive home, hair messy, clothes sticking to you (because of the ridiculously high level of humidity) looking like you've returned from a battlefield, only to find there is still no water. You are starved and you sit down to dinner, turn the television on and prepare to relax and hear the familiar burst of the transformer. All of a sudden, you are sitting in the dark. Once again, without electricity. Your IPS is battery-operated and has not charged properly all day. You bring out the old candles. The children are wailing. They have exams the next day. You have a report to finish for work due 8am the next morning. Your spouse is complaining about missing his/her favourite TV shows. You have officially reached your breaking point.

But hold on. Why have a meltdown over something you have no control over? No matter how much you protest, how many newspapers write about it, and how many solutions are offered, you know things will not change. Not anytime soon anyway. So why not make the best of a rotten situation. Why not figure out the best way to spend your time when the lights are out? Let's find out what some of your fellow city dwellers have been coping during the times of darkness.

“We have palli bidyut and there is load shedding every hour or half an hour. Sometimes there is no electricity for two hours straight and it comes back for only 15 minutes! We don't have a generator, so we use a charge light for the kids to study. Most of the time, when they don't have homework, we go out together for ice cream, just to spend time till the electricity is back.”
Hafizur Rahman Shopon
Driver, Keraniganj

Workers at a laundry wait for the electr- icity to come back. Sometimes during frequent load-shedding, workers are forced to stop work for hours together.

“We have a lot of difficulty when the electricity goes out for two hours at a stretch, but when that happens, we have it for the next three to five hours. My family and I usually go up on the roof and spend time together because it is nice and breezy up there on some nights.”
Ashraf Hossain
Office Assistant

“ I get so frustrated with load shedding I just go to bed early and try to sleep through it all.”
Suleiman Hossain
Graphics Designer, Mirpur

“We used to sleep very late, but ever since this excessive load shedding has started, we go to bed early. My mother makes sure she watches her TV serials during the day. If we have to take a shower in the morning, we turn the geyser on at night so the water warms up whenever there is electricity. We have made many adjustments because of this problem.”
Tamanna Azad
Journalist, Schoolteacher

“My friends and I love walking around on the streets when there is no electricity. Which is pretty much all night every night.”
Rezaul Islam
Security Guard, Bashundhara

“My family and I usually eat when the electricity goes out. We enjoy it.”
Salesman, Lalmatia

“I enjoy taking long walks when there is no electricity. Where I live, there is load shedding every other hour.”
Md Sadequr Rahman
Shop owner, Lalbagh

“We love singing songs when there is no electricity. We can go on for hours.”
Shahalom Zaman
University Student, Baridhara

“Absolutely nothing. We sit and stare into the darkness and think.”
Habib Ullah
Rickshaw puller, Gabtali

“We usually go on long drives or just go to a café and hang out till the electricity comes back.”
Nusrat Jabeen
Banker, Uttara

“We sit in our car sometimes with the air conditioner on. It's great.”
Samiha Chowdhury
Student, Gulshan

“I watch my TV shows in the afternoon and talk on the phone when there is no electricity.”
Iffat Rahman
Homemaker, Dhanmondi

“I play hide and seek with my brother and our friends. We like it when there is no electricity because we aren't forced to do our homework.”
Student, Banani

“My cousins and I get together and entertain the kids in the house by playing bhoot. One of us puts Vaseline and powder on our face and tries to scare the kids. It's kind of dangerous, because we are playing in the dark, but it's a lot of fun too.”
Julekha Bibi
Journalist, Student

“It's good for the business when there is no electricity. More people come out and sit in my shop. I don't go home till late, just enjoy the company at work.”
Tea stall owner, Dhanmondi

“I go home very late, and I cannot sleep when there is no electricity. I usually sit outside, smoke and chat with my neighbours when there is no electricity.”
Jamshed Alam
Waiter, Uttara

“I go to my cousin's house because they usually have electricity when we don't. We also play charades in the candlelight when the generators stop working.”
Ayesha Hasan
Social Worker, Gulshan

“I can't sleep when there is load shedding, so I usually end up playing poker with my brothers with a charge light on. I lost so much money last night, it's not even funny.”
Arif Haque
Businessman, Central Road

“I like to read with my torch light on.”
Nazif Hossain
Student, Dhanmondi



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