I’ve been following Venkatesh Rao’s writing since he achieved net stardom with his Gervais Principle essay. Gotta be honest–it’s heavy reading and requires way more concentration than the regular popcorn the net serves up.
But in a departure from his usually cold hard intellectual style, his recent piece about how the quality of light affects our work and our rhythms really tugged at my heart. A lot of that was because of the most powerful rhetoric device–nostalgia. Because I grew up in India in the 80s and 90s and also went through those load-shedding hours. It was inconvenience, boredom, excitement and respite all rolled into one.
Dark evenings without power were a special time for children. The candle-lit hours on porches and balconies were a strange mix of an ethereal kind of intimacy, beckoning darkness, and thoughts that retreated from both sunlight and electric lights.
You could do nothing useful during those hours. There was no TV or radio. Reading was difficult. Candle-lit meals tended to be either quick, simple affairs whipped up in semi-darkness, or leftovers. Families who turned the blacked-out evenings into family time generally sat out on the porch. Adults would use the time to tell family stories to children. Teenagers and some couples would stroll up and down the street, occasionally stopping to chat with neighbors. Younger kids would run around squealing and playing, seemingly possessed by the strange euphoria-inducing forces leaking in from another world. Or they would huddle together and try to scare each other with ghost stories.