10:03 AM IST - Thursday April 2, 2015

A taste of Indian summer in Washington DC

Washington, July 3 The lights are back, the TV has again started blaring, the air-conditioner is humming and the internet has come alive. It seems an aeon since the hot Friday night when a savage storm plunged the American capital into darkness, a situation more familiar in Delhi perhaps.

It’s good to be back in good old DC as one has known it for years.

The storm had come almost unannounced, with strong winds swaying the trees, bringing lashing rains amid flashes of lightning and thunder to cool the city after a hot sizzling day. Then the lights flickered once or maybe twice before going out completely, enveloping the city in darkness as far as one could see from the ninth floor window of an apartment complex in Alexandria, a Washington suburb no more than a few miles from the Pentagon.

The rain stopped as suddenly as it had come. But the lights did not come back. Nor did any inverters or mini-generators in the row of houses below. Who needs those infernal noise machines in a city that had never gone dark — until now.

The exploits of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley and their dumping of “Obamacare” or “Obamneycare” as Jindal said in an ‘oops’ moment could surely wait for the morrow, one thought before turning in for the night.

Saturday morning brought no cheer. And as one sipped morning tea made on the gas burner that still worked, a call from the family in India brought the first ominous tidings that with over two million people hit by the storm from Indiana to New Jersey, it may be days before things returned to normal.

The Washington Post landed outside the door in a pitch dark corridor with a reassuring thud after eight, a couple of hours later than usual but complete with Sunday supplements. A story about the hottest day in Washington, but there was not a single word about the storm!

The cool morning turned into a hot and sultry afternoon as temperatures soared, leaving one to look for an old magazine or newspaper to fan oneself and ‘drink’ some ice cream now melted into a cool shake from a glass.

Sunday brought the warning that ‘outages’, as power failures are called in the US, could last for days. A call to the power utility brought no assurance. I trudged down nine flights of stairs in pitch darkness with the help of a torch to cool off in the pool.

But the pool was closed too. The concierge in the lobby had no update on the power situation and handed a one page tip sheet on how to beat the summer blues.

The Sunday newspaper also enlightened the reader that the crippling ‘thing’ that lashed DC was no hurricane or tornado. It was a “derecho”, Spanish for straight line, that moves in a straight line striking everything in its path and that it visits Washington every four years.

As I stood on the patio peering into the dark at the end of another ‘powerless’ day, the question uppermost was not whether it was ‘straight’ or a ‘twister’, but when power would return.

Then suddenly there was a collective ‘Yay!’ shout from the courtyard below. The lights were back.

The storm turned out to be a great leveller, reducing the world’s most powerful and advanced nation to a situation that is par for the course for people back home in India.


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