Friday, May 15, 2009

SWITCH ON A MEMORY


Nowadays, we take pains to camouflage electrical switches. Small and insignificant, they are usually set in a white plastic panel which blends right in with the pastel wall paint. And the wires and stuff are all hidden out of sight, under the plaster, as if they are something to be ashamed of.

Not so earlier. When we were children, our home in Barrackpore proudly displayed its electrical connections. The switches were round-bold-black-on-a-white-ceramic-base, and they were set in a wooden box-board which arrogantly jutted out of the whitewashed walls. There were eye-catching lines of wires from each and every light and fan and socket, proudly criss-crossing the walls to meet at the switch-board. Electrical wiring of yore was like networking of today – the mantra being “Flaunt your connections”.

These switches had a life of their own, and could give you nasty surprises and shocks if you touched them with wet hands. They demanded respectful treatment, and we were taught to be very very careful and dry our hands and wear rubber slippers before touching them. As an extra precaution, the switch-boards were usually positioned almost impossibly high on the wall to avoid pesky children from fiddling with their dignity.

And the queen of the switch-board was the fan regulator. Not the piddly little white knobs of today, thank you. We had big, bold rectangular beauties with prominent knobs marked very clearly ON-1-2-3-4-5-OFF. They had a don’t-mess-with-me attitude, and required a certain amount of force to be, for want of a better word, regulated. They were also extremely temperamental, in true diva-fashion. Sometimes they would coyly refuse to move beyond 2 or 3 in the midst of sweaty summer heatwaves. Or stubbornly remain stuck at 5 even though the autumn breeze had turned chilly.

The only force which could subdue the arrogant switch-board and make it redundant was the LOAD-SHEDDING (powercuts). These were frequent whimsical occurrences (then, as now, some things don’t change) lasting from anything between one to six hours. During their duration, the switch-board lay in a neglected shadow, with only one switch left on to inform us of the return of electricity.

When the electricity did return, we were usually informed by the lone left-on light-bulb as well as by a general HURRAH of joy that echoed through the neighbourhood. And the primacy of the switch-board would be restored, with all the adults rushing to it in supplication and relief to put on the lights and fans and the fridge.

DO SWITCH ON A MEMORY AND SHARE IT WITH US.

16 comments:

seanag said...

I am fascinated by the whole idea of how displaying your electrical switches prominently was a way of showing status back then. I am sure it was that way here as well, but as the U.S. was 'electrified' earlier than India, I missed that historical moment, even though I am older than you are. I think a similar thing, though, and one that I did witness, was that once upon a time, the TV set had it's own elaborate wooden case, as did the stereo system. When these new electronic acquisitions came into the house, they were treated like royalty.

Priya said...

i follow your blog regularly...only that i was a bit hesitant and lazy to leave a comment.

i appreciate your blog not only for your style of writing which is undoubtedly amazing but at the same time the way you bring in those "down the memory lanes" incidents and events...i was amazed by the "Bagatelle" post and more with this "Switch on a memory"...your writing gives life to the non-living object which has almost taken a back seat in today's fast and "camouflaged" life like today's "Switch-board"...

There is so much to learn from your writing style and to refresh the memories of those by-gone days...

ugich konitari said...

The black rotary phones ! In keeping with the time it took for one number to be rotated and dialled, phone numbers then had less digits compared to today. These phones hardly malfunctioned. Very recently an old mechanic of our institute came by to replace one of our phones, and he told me that all these fancy touch-type phones were not a patch on the old rotary type....."dhyaan me rakhneka memory phone me dalte hai; pehelewale phone achche the, our log dhyaan me bhi rakhte the ...."...was his comment!

seanag said...

Those heavy black phones, announcing their importance, are definitely another example of the same phenomenon.

SGD said...

Sucharita....we too had the big black circular switches on the wooden board and the wires crisscrossing across the walls and ceilings!

Way back in the early 80s,when we shifted to our 'notun baari' it was with wonder and awe that i noticed there were no 'taars'(wire) on the wall!! The 8 yr old me was intrigued at how the current was 'flying' across to reach the bulbs & tubes....
Lovely post...refreshed so many childhood memories....

Kavi said...

Ah those switches and those giant fan blades that seemed they could propel the Titanic through the iceberg !

Ofcourse ! I recall them and the swooshes !!

and these days of concealed wiring, the only wiring that society considers flauntable is the friends of facebook !

Sigh. give me a switch. Anyday !! Lovely piece !

♥ Braja said...

i still love it when the power comes back on in our village :))

Indrani said...

I loved your description of your switches. An integral pat of life they have been changing colors and forms for the past couple of decades. :)
Lovely post!
(btw the answers are up. :))

Indyeah said...

beautiful post!Sucharita this brought back so many memories of nani and Naanu's house :))
and the way daadu's home was always full of such contraptions in one corner..

even studied in defence schools of yore :)) so they too were housed in old colonial buildings..the switches were infront of our eyes 24X7

we have some of those fan regulators even now:)))

ah!nostalgia!thank you Sucharita!:))

seanag said...

Sucharita, although this is off topic, I wondered if you would be interested in Adrian's latest post about the Indian Enfield. It seems quite the nostalgia vehicle, and some of your readers might actually want to temporarily jump blogs and share their own experiences.

sukku said...

I remember when I was a kid and stayed in the Government houses...maybe built during the British times in Malaysia...it reminded me of what you said...thanks for sharing...

Rajesh said...

The old houses in the towns still have these switches. They are now antique pieces.

lopamudra said...

Your post brought back memories of Usha,khaitan,orient fans and philips, laxman-sylvania,bajaj bulbs along with the criss crossing wires and switches.It opened a flood gate of electrifying memories!!I am presently clueless(or disinterested) about the brands we use here!! Amazing isn't it?

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Thanks everybody, for those light-and-shade memories.

Mampi said...

oh i have recently shifted to an old house built sometime in the 1940's. just got all the old wiring partially changed. though it is a great fun to live in a house built 70 years ago. will share more about it later on.

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

The changes that happened in our lives in the last thirty to fifty years are amazing. And your post reminds us that they are not only about big things like the metro railway, cell phones or fly-overs. The small, unimportant, and unnoticed changes like the metamorphosis of the humble electrical switch also tell us an equally profound a story. A wonderful article.

You have a lovely style. And your observations are not only interesting, they also make us LOL.