Cold, Crisis & Candles: Chillai-Kalan Turning Dreadful in ‘Dark’ Kashmir
From a patient on an oxygen cylinder to a student on exam preparation, the ‘powerless’ winter is once again keeping life hostage to the fair-weather system and grid in the valley.
In her candlelit room, Shazia is sitting anxiously.
The 26-year-old is a prospective PhD scholar and has recently enrolled for online classes on Unacademy App.
She paid a handsome amount for the online tutorials but her laptop, phone, power bank, inverter and every other means of electricity remain out of charge.
She couldn’t attend her classes recently as her area was reeling under power cut for the past 12 hours.
“My test was after a few days and I had still a lot of syllabi to cover and the power crisis wouldn’t let me finish it,” Shazia said, anxiously.
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With the onset of winters in the valley, the erratic power supply comes to haunt Kashmir. Despite the upbeat nature of the Power Development Department’s movers and shakers this year, Kashmir is only reeling under the frequent power cuts.
Like Shazia, Imran has become a victim of the clutches of power crisis in the freezing cold too.
He lately went for his exam without washing his face as the water was too cold to even touch. “I also couldn’t study for the exam under the candlelight throughout that night,” he said.
Sailing in the same boat is an early bird named Shaheen from Srinagar.
Her gadgets also remain out of charge these days.
She works in a national media organization where she had a deadline to meet. She usually packs her bag and walks two kilometres away from her home where there is a mobile network tower. She requests the employees to let her charge the gadgets and meet the deadline.
“People are kind enough to let me charge my phone but it’s not the solution,” Shaheen said. “Government should sort this seasonal mess for once and all. We can’t be held winter hostage forever like this.”
The prevailing power crisis is a bigger shock for patients, like Subhan.
Suffering from pulmonary issues, the 58-year-old man lives on an oxygen concentrator.
“It needs electricity and we don’t have it much,” Afshan, daughter of Subhan, said. “I fear for my father’s wellbeing while waiting for the light.”
During winters as the chest complications surge in the valley, several NGOs operating in Srinagar cater to the rising demand for oxygen cylinders.
“There is more than 50% increase in the demand during this winter alone,” Mohammad Afaaq Sayeed, Head of an NGO, SRO Kashmir, told Mountain Ink.
“We’re even getting calls late in the night. I think it will increase in the coming days if things start going a haywire then we would be having very big, surging demand. We’re mentally prepared and have done the augmentation.”
Sayeed might be up for the demand, but even he sounds paranoid over the prevailing power cuts in the valley.
Apart from elders on the power-driven oxygen cylinders, winter powerlessness is equally a traumatic time for children.
Lately, two-year-old Ruha’s cries were heard in the neighbourhood of her hometown, Sopore. She cried the whole night and didn’t let anyone sleep. When a neighbouring lady visited the family out of concern the next morning, she was told: “Ruha sleeps in light and we had no electricity. The inverter was also out of charge and she is frightened of dark.”
The torment, many say, is pervasive and beyond age limits. It even enforces its own communication blockade during winters in the valley. Recently, Rakshanda’s parents faced one such weather cordon.
Studying Medicine in Bangladesh, Rakshanda couldn’t call her family as their phones were dead due to a prolonged power cut.
“I cried the whole day in class because I thought something might have happened to my parents and relatives whom I contacted, as Kashmir is an uncertain place,” she said. “Nobody told me that it is only a power crisis in Kashmir and nothing else.”
The anguish is equally despairing for homemakers doing dishes with freezing cold water during the season.
“It indeed is very hard to live in Kashmir with such crisis,” Rafia, a homemaker from Bandipora, said. “Government should not make these forty days of Chillai-Kalan a matter of life and death for us Kashmiris.”
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