Across Delhi, as the clock struck nine, living room lights were switched off with clockwork precision, bringing down the total power demand from 1,968 MW to 1,242 MW.
Several residents responded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to light candles and lamps by also setting off firecrackers. Policemen, putting in long hours away from their families ever since the lockdown started, also did their bit by putting up diyas atop barricades at many places.
Power authorities and discoms worked in close coordination to ensure there was no disruption in supply due to the rapid fall and surge in demand, as living room lights went off and flickered back to life in a coordinated fashion.
“There was a reduction of 473 MW in BSES areas (total Delhi 726 MW). We coordinated the mega event with other stakeholders at both the central and state levels and successfully managed the event in our license area of 950 square km in Delhi,” said a BSES spokesperson.
In a display of “collective resolve” to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the timing had to be precise — 9 pm, nine minutes. So when the lights were turned off at the city’s night shelter number 235, near the Sarai Kale Khan bus terminal, not everyone was convinced.
“Abhi teen minute bacha hai, kya yaar (there are still three more minutes till 9),” rang out a voice in the dark as Meher Chand, the caretaker of the shelter, switched off the lights.
Soon after, Chand lit two candles on his table, where rested the logbook carrying the 60 names housed under the corrugated tin structure.
The flames flickered with the army of mosquitoes buzzing around, undaunted by the repellent below throwing up coils of smoke. Soon after, the soft neon light being emitted by the insect killer was to become a matter of dispute.
“Should that not be switched off as well?” asked one person. “Usko rehne do bhai, baitha nahi jaa raha hai (let it be, in any case it’s become difficult to sit here),” came the repartee.
For the next five minutes, the soft glow of the candles was to be the only source of light in the room, painted in blue, in which rows of men lay silent and motionless.
A plumber, many beldars, a former sales executive of a reputed laptop brand, a mason, son of a retired servicemen driven away for his drinking — the only common factor binding these men, each with their stories of hardship, is the absence of a roof over their heads.
The lockdown has dealt a body blow to their income — meagre, scanty wages — that ensure two meals a day, if not much. Their complaints, which they share, if at all, are in a tone that is almost apologetic.
“Thoda sa mazdoor logon ke liye soch lete. Waise toh accha nirnay hai (The lockdown is no doubt a good decision, but I wish they were a little more considerate of labourers,” said Monazir Ansari, a beldar who hails from Bihar’s Sitamarhi. Ramprakash Bishwakarma, hailing from UP, also believes the step was the need of the hour but said “there is no money to buy even a toothpaste”.
At the shelter, authorities have made arrangements for lunch and dinner. “Par thoda roti bhi mil jaata, bas chawal hi dete hai do time (wish they also provide chapatis. We are served only rice),” said Ansari.
Chand said new people were not being sheltered in the facility for the time being.
“Most of them have been here throughout the lockdown period. We cannot afford to allow new people to live here due to the fear of the virus. However, food is for everyone,” he said.
Rajesh, a labourer who belongs to UP’s Sultanpur, said his earnings have been low since the assembly elections: “Even during the elections we didn’t get much work. And now the virus has broken our back.”
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