Excerpt from 03:02

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08 June 2017

I had been sleeping the dreamless sleep of the contentedly drunk when my eyes snapped open. I had heard something loud, like the pop of a firecracker, only duller. My head ached a bit, and my throat was dry. When I picked up my phone to check the time, the screen was blank and refused to flicker to life though I pressed the button repeatedly. Perhaps I had forgotten to charge it. I cursed whichever idiot had burst a firecracker at this unearthly hour as I checked my watch on the side table.

The time was 03:02.

I lay back down on the bed and then decided that, since I was up, I might as well drink some water. Hydration would do wonders for my parched throat and make the hangover more bearable. I walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge, only to see that it was dark inside. The water inside was still cold, so the fridge must have turned off very recently. Figuring a surge had caused it to trip, and that was what had made the noise that woke me up, I walked towards the junction box and turned on the light switch in the living room on the way.

Nothing.

Looked like the mains had tripped. I fetched the small torch I had in the kitchen and went to the junction box. To my surprise, when I flashed the torch at it, I saw that none of the switches had tripped.

That was when I heard all the voices. Why the hell were so many people up and talking at bloody three in the morning?

I began walking to the balcony but stopped short at the sight of something I had never seen before.

The whole of Mumbai, as far as I could see, was dark. It was as if a giant, unseen hand had taken a brush and, in one massive stroke, painted all of the city black. All except for a bright flame in the direction of the airport. Was there a fire somewhere?

I had the night guard's mobile number saved on my phone, but when I picked it up to make the call, I was reminded that my phone was dead. I walked to the intercom to call him, but there was only static. Looked like the mother of all power failures had hit us. Perhaps it was a transformer or power station on fire somewhere. That might explain the flame.

 
Publisher: Westland books / Price: Rs 295  

There was nothing I could do about it at three in the morning, and certainly not when I was still half-drunk and feeling the onset of a massive hangover. I figured that things would be sorted out sooner rather than later, and my fretting about it wouldn't help. So I finished the bottle of water and went back to bd. It didn't take a lot for me to blank out the voices and fall back to sleep.

When I woke next, it was due to a shrill noise. On instinct, I grabbed my phone, wondering if I had set an alarm by mistake, but the screen was still dead. My watch told me that the time was 7:15, and after a few seconds I was awake enough to figure that the noise was coming from outside. When I walked around my apartment, I realised that the power was still out and, looking out of the balcony, I saw groups of people huddled around the various housing societies in the area. Someone was blowing a whistle trying to get people in one of the societies opposite mine to stop shouting and pay attention to him. I couldn't remember the last time electricity had gone for such a long period of time, and it was no wonder people were getting concerned and, from the sounds of the occasional raised voice, pissed off.

I took a quick shower, the heater not working meant that there was only cold water, but in a way that was good, because it was just the thing I needed to fully wake myself up. A few minutes later, I was in front of the lift and realized that it too was not working. The people across the corridor were an elderly retired couple, and I had barely exchanged a couple of pleasantries with them in the four years I had stayed on the same floor as them. Today, Mrs Guha gingerly opened the door and looked at me, her eyes filling with tears.

'Nothing's working. His pacemaker is not working either. I can't call the hospital since the landlines are down as well, and we can't walk down the stairs.'

'Don't worry, I'll drive over to the hospital and get some help.'

Having a mission, or at any rate something useful to do, cleared my head and got me into action. I walked down the stairs cursing the fact that having an apartment on the fourteenth floor was great when it came to lake views, but really sucked at times like these. I was happy, though, that I had kept myself in decent-enough shape that I wasn't winded when I finished my descent.

All the four guards were huddled near the gate of the society, and their supervisor, an elderly pot-bellied man called Pandey, walked over to me.

'Sir, something's wrong'.

'I know, looks like the whole bloody electrical grid has gone down.'

Pandey had spent years in the Army before retiring and taking this job, so I knew he wasn't a man to be easily spooked, but today I saw something in his eyes I had never seen before.

Fear.

'No, Sir, it's something else. Everything's down. We had these fancy generators installed a few years ago, but those aren't working either. Even cars are not working. That has nothing to do with the electricity grid.'

This just did not make any sense to me, so I jogged over to my parking spot and pressed the button of my key ring. I was greeted by silence instead of the usual beep signifying that the car had been unlocked. I opened the car the old-fashioned way and slid into the driver's seat, but when I put the key into the ignition and turned it, here was no response. I tried again, but with the same result. I looked out to see others like me gathered around their cars similarly puzzled.

What the hell was going on?

(See interview: Disconnect and be human)





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