Year: Somewhere in the summer of 2001
Location: A certain locality in the Greater Area of Ushanagar, Tezpur
Light has been completely sucked out from this town. It seemed as if absolute darkness has complete sway for miles and miles except one or two houses and every soul in this town has been lulled into a trance. The moon seemed bent on betrayal as if she had a fight with her boyfriend and now was hiding behind the veil of clouds. It’s like having the party spoiled just because the couple in your gang had an ugly fight and aren’t on talking terms. Usually in such cases the guy has to apologize but with no boyfriend in sight, I heaved a sigh and the last few hopes of a reprieve dissipated away into thin air. The only other sound that pierced the silence of the night apart from the croaking of the toad was the sound of my revolving ‘bisoni’ kitik, kitik, kitik……
The hand-fan or the ‘bisoni’ is an important asset in every Assamese household and I am not just talking about the rural households. The inverters and electric generators weren’t that common back then as they are now. The years I spent in Tezpur were bliss! I had in no time fallen in love with the “City of Romance”. But the summer months unveiled the ugly belly of this otherwise lovely pristine town.
When you spend a boiling hot summer day, you have every right to believe that the night might bring some relief. But to your utter disgust and horror, you are left disappointed. Here comes the most interesting part: how could you be allowed to stay in peace? The devil this time isn’t the hot glowing ball that was staring you all day, but the “Electric Man”!
Those were the darkest nights in my life. Nights are usually dark but when you are accustomed to bulbs and tube-lights from the time you opened your eyes, sometimes long periods of blackout make us appreciate its darkness better. It also served as a boon in some ways. I didn’t have much of a concern for studies. So usually ‘no-electricity’ meant ‘no-study’. But sometimes when exams were near I was forced to take shelter in the light of a kerosene oil-lamp. For me it was fun. I tore little pieces of paper from my note and dropped them into the flame from the top of the chimney and watched them burn into flames. Sometimes I just placed my Apsara pencil over the chimney and observed with rapt attention as the colour layer used to peel off from the wooden piece with the effervescence of tiny bubbles. Even then, on a hot humid summer night the heat from the oil-lamp was too suffocating for me to continue long, so I use to give up after doing an hour or so.
Another notable aspect was the spontaneous reaction in the Ushanagar neighbourhood whenever there was a power-cut. The moment the lights went out, people used to call out in synchronization “Gol”  which somehow sounded like reaching the crescendo of a choir that was garnished with a sense of utter disappointment and dejection. The grave-vine has it that the tradition continues till day!
During those hot summer months the ‘bisoni’ was a welcome reprieve. In fact I had developed very high BRES [bisoni-revolving-endurance-skill].I could do 25-30 minutes with one hand at a stretch after which I switched to the other hand. And when in bed, suppose there was a blackout, I could even rotate it while being asleep. I believe my subconscious mind underwent mutations to deal with the calamity. A few more years, I wouldn’t have minded developing X-Men like powers: moving the bisoni by mind power à la Professor Xavier. Alas! I couldn’t develop them!
My mom says my acquaintance with bisoni dates back long ago, when I was just a 6 month old baby! My grandmother was in this world then. So whenever I visited my ancestral place, she used to take me in her lap, place a hand below my head and fan me with her other hand. Being the youngest of her grandsons had its privileges! So as an infant, my attention was captivated by the continuous rotating ‘bisoni’. Of course, my Grandma used to get tired after a while. So I used to try and snap the bisoni from her hands. She used to relent quite easily. So after having it, I tried to emulate the rotating action of my Grandma. I didn’t succeed as my hands were too small and moreover I didn’t have the strength to rotate it. But I managed to shake it sporadically! Grandma used to smile seeing my futile attempts. For me it was all fun!
However even in my worst nightmare I didn’t expect my former ‘toy’ to be my sole armour in this war against the summer heat when man’s most trusted ally ‘Electric Man’ has joined hands with the foes. Frustration crept in gradually. I didn’t want to take this lying down. So one night after being made to suffer in 4 hours of blackout I picked up the yellow pages and searched for the State Electricity Board. I dialed the number. The phone kept on ringing till it got disconnected. I pressed redial. No answer. I finally managed to get through in the fourth attempt. I blurted out at the official for making us suffer. He asked for the address of my location. When I gave it to him he assured me that the power supply would be restored within half an hour and there was nothing to worry about. I waited for another half an hour filled with a renewed sense of optimism and vigour in contrary with my parents who didn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm. Half an hour came and passed. Then an hour. The smile had long faded from my face replaced by a sense of loathing and despise for the State Electricity Board.
In spite of that, I continued to call them up on subsequent nights which helped me get acquainted with their modus operandi of dealing with the avalanche of calls from disappointed customers. They usually hang up the receivers most of the time so that they are saved from the trouble of replying. The tring-tring must be really annoying and I presume it got it into their nerves. 😛 ! The few times I managed to get through they had a set of standard replies prepared which usually varied from “load-shedding” to “No supply from the main line”. I got so accustomed to hearing the term “load-shedding” that for me it somehow got synonymous with the summer season.
I would never forget those days when we had 6 hours of blackout at a stretch or even more. I used to joke about it saying if the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ were here, they wouldn’t mind doing a 72hr or a 100hr blackout just for the record! Or even bring in the Oprah Winfrey Show where the residents of Ushanagar would cry their eyes out over the years of slavery and torture by the fickle-natured “Electric Man”!
On a serious note it was a miserable experience. The grim situation made me do ludicrous things whenever there was some important cricket match or show on TV. I resorted to praying to God, chanting hymns that my Brahmin mom taught me just to see one glance of that spark. And oh yeah! I almost forgot to mention that I also went to such great lengths as praying to the souls of Thomas Alva Edison, Nikola Tesla, Benjamin Franklin and Michael Faraday! They never heard or even if they did I believe they remained mute spectators!
I can’t blame the employees at the Board for the pathetic situation which continues till day in Asom. The onus lies purely on the hands of the powers-that-be. Nevertheless all along this journey of misery, I share my heartiest compliments to my wonderful companion-‘bisoni’. It has been a wonderful healer -an elixir of life at times. Although it couldn’t replace the electric fan completely however, when the unbearable heat gets to you, with your body dripping in sweat and you have that strong urge to cover your body in ice, believe me, ‘bisoni’ can be your sole saviour!
(Special thanks to Rineesha Goswami and Tinam Borah for their invaluable suggestions)
 The Assamese equivalent for the hand-fan
 An Assamese word which literally means ‘to go’. Here it refers to the ‘going out’ of the electricity supply.
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