India has come a long way since my childhood.

And not.

This week’s headlines: Celsius rises, so does loadshedding. In American English, this means temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and no electricity for hours and hours and hours.

That’s the way it was when I was growing up in Kolkata. The only relief was to take a plunge in the rather polluted Ganges (see photo).

At school, it was difficult to concentrate. Instead, I’d be busy wiping dry the droplets of sweat on my textbook. One time, I’d obliterated the face of Shah Jahan (the Mogul emperor who built the Tak Mahal) in my history book with a good dousing. I watched the black ink run down the innards of the cheaply printed text. Too bad his son Aurangzeb could not dispose of him that easily.

Going home on a searing summer day was no comfort either. No bath because there was no power to pump the water to the roof. No fan. No respite. At night, we wet our bed sheets and put slabs of ice on our mattresses to stay cool inside the thick cotton mosquito nets and watched flying cockroaches and creepy insects crawl up the sides.

We’d wait for the monsoons to begin– usually the first or second week of June. My brother and I would stand in the courtyard fully clothed and let the rain soak us through. There was nothing that felt more soothing.

And now, in 2010, despite all of India’s economic gains, my friends and family in Kolkata are doing the same as we did 40 years ago.

The problem, says the Telegraph newspaper: Snags in the coal-supply chain are causing power generation units to perform below capacity.

While government agencies played the blame game, almost every Kolkata resident suffered power cuts this week for at least six ours. Worse still, the monsoonal rains are still far from the congested city — the weather forecast calls for hot and humid days.

Still feel like complaining about the pollen?

The water has come

Once again, thousands of Indians have been affected by flooding in the monsoon season. It’s become a regular sight to us, and we saw it here in America in the aftermath of Katrina. But few of us can imagine the forceful nature of water as enemy.

I remember my father’s aunt putting her bed up on bricks, stacked four high. She lived in Bangur, a northern, low-lying Kolkata neighborhood prone to flooding. It was expected that the outside would invade as the standing water on the streets inched upward. With it came snakes, creepy insects, garbage, disease. “Badi-te jol eshecche,” my great aunt would say. “The water has come to the house.”

We planned our lives around the water — we knew the streets that were still navigable by car and foot and we knew the ones to avoid.

The smell of mold hung heavy in every house. Without electricity to run fans, we sat in darkness, the sweat trickling from our heads all the way down our backs. We’d pray for more rain because with it came a breeze in the stillness of an oppressive afternoon.

Now, I get upset if one fly has illegally entered my house. I run about trying to swat the nuisance. I begin to panic if the power goes off for more than an hour at a time.

How lucky we are that we can lock out the heat and stave off the water — that we have so much power over nature’s fury.

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