A Transformer’s Tale

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In a small hamlet in North Kashmir’s Zainagair area called Botingoo village, an erratic electric transformer ends up uniting the villagers despite hardships. Waseem Ahad, narrates the story of a festering wound called transformer       

People ferrying transformer on  boat. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

People ferrying transformer on boat.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

It was not such a loud blast; only the houses close by heard. Yet the word spread like an electric current, thanks to the kids playing in a nearby courtyard. ‘tranasfarmer doed bei,’ they screamed one after another till the word reached every household.

It was eighth time in the past year. One by one, men came out and assembled near the village square where the transformer is set on a makeshift bed. Nobody looked at the transformer. No one said a word. Everyone was groaning with anger. Till now they had sucked every penny out of their pockets to repair it, but now they have lost all hope. It had been only three days since they have brought it back from electric department’s repair store. Had the guilty been a living being, kangeris would have been flying at him by now.

“Enough is enough,” roared one. “Where is that lineman? Today I will not spare him. I will kill him.” It took him a little while to pick a guilty. Thank heavens, lineman is not present. They would have burnt him alive. It doesn’t matter whether he is guilty or not. He is the only one from electric department known to people here.

“He only talks, but never does anything. Only a day ago, he said it would not burn anymore. Now see,” said another.

About twenty people had already gathered around the transformer, while others were still on their way.

“Go and piss on this transformer now. I am not going to pay anything anymore,” Gani Kak said and snapped a look at the transformer while walking towards the mosque for the afternoon prayers.

He was always among the first ones to pay the money collected by the Mohalla heads for repairing this transformer. And the last time he had paid money, he was told that people in the electric department had assured nothing will happen to their transformer now. He was quite hopeful that it will last the entire winters without any malfunctioning. But he was wrong.

Every repair costs Mohalla committee a sum of more than Rs 5,000. And every time the transformer is brought back after repairs, which usually takes a week or more, it would function for a few months without hassle. This time it functioned for only ten days before giving up. Reason: over load.

Over the years, this transformer has become a reason of pain for the villagers; pain both monetary and psychological. Despite living on the margins of poverty, with average monthly household income not exceeding Rs 5000, people continue to pay Rs 300 as electricity fee every month.  And the regular outage and repairing costs add to the frustration.

This frustration was quite visible in the village square today. With their kangeris inside their Pherans, people were simmering, both from cold and rage. Anyone, whose tongue slips out of the way, head can be blown up with one kanger stroke.

I recalled a scene from the day when I was a boy – almost two decades ago. Military men announced on loudspeakers: “Crackdown.” Everyone – men, women and children – were called out of their houses to gather in a village school ground. More and more army men walked in queue along one side of the road from their nearby bunkers – which today is a huge military camp, covering more than ten acres of the village orchards and mulberry – and people walked along the other side, towards the ground.

The nabids, locally known as Ikhwanis or counterinsurgents walked in front, clearing the way for army, pushing anyone, who came in the way, aside. They signaled men to raise their pherans up to show what lied inside besides the kangeris. Though fatigued in army bulletproof jackets, their long noses, fair color and the local accent betrayed their looks. In early days of nineties, during first appearance of army men in the village streets, this work was done by trained sniff dogs.

Women and children while reaching the school ground were asked to separate from men to gather in another ground nearby, opposite the school-ground. Just outside the ground a nabid pushed a woman on the ground. Those who saw it raised an alarm. As the word spread in men’s quarter people shouted: “Narei taqbeer…Allahu Akbar”. And within seconds kangris were flying at anyone with AK 47 and donning Indian Army uniform. Few minutes of commotion was followed by silence. Army men stared into ash-filled air and firepot-littered ground. Today, when I saw people seething with anger, I imagined the re-enation of that scene. But there was no apparent target as of now.

After every malfunction or burn, people would demand a 250 KV transformer from the department, saying that the current 100 KV is unable to sustain the load of about 60 households and a rice mill. But every time department skipped the demand by giving one or the other reason for not being able to avail 250 KV. And with this hope the villagers waited and waited. For three years.

Masjid Dar rolled his pheran on his shoulders, to expose his right arm. “Tomorrow I will put this transformer on a tangah (horse-cart) and throw it in the department ground,” he said. “We don’t need electricity. Let’s cancel registrations and not pay any fees.”

“Yes, yes. He is right,” agreed Mahad Kak, who was squatting on the shop front, while raising his head which he had buried in his pheran, staring at the darkness inside his pheran to vent the current feeling of disgust.

For three years Majid Dar had been at the forefront of all this. It was him, along with his friend Fila Wani, who transported this transformer to and from the department, spent time to fix electric lines, and struggled for a 250 KV transformer on behalf of whole Mohalla. His exemplary courage and articulation – that makes him the best story-teller of the village – gave hope to people and they walked behind him. He went to the departmental office. He talked to officers. This made him a hero for the people.

When he walked few paces towards the transformer, everyone walked behind him, including the children that had gathered around. He went to the rare side of the transformer bed, had a brief look and turned to the people: “Look, it is late today. Let’s take it to the department tomorrow. OK?”

“All right,” the people shouted in unison, as if responding to an Azadi slogan, and began to disperse towards their homes without talking to one another.

It was easy for people to respond to Majid Dar’s call, or talk to him, for he was a neutral person. He did not “belong to any party”.

The recently held election had divided the village so deeply that people belonging to different ideologies or parties don’t see each other face to face anymore.

But today, the mutual pain of electricity shortage had brought them out together at one place, but their vanity overcame the generation-old custom, they walked back to their homes with the loads of pain, which they had come with, inside their hearts. They broke the rule of generations that no one should cry in solitude.

Next morning transformer was rolled in a tractor and sent off.

In the afternoon people came rushing out of their homes to a massive sound that was a mix of children and adult voices. They were following the tractor that had comeback from the electric department and heading towards the village square. Some men and children jumped on it, while others danced around. It was 250 KV.

“We will build a new bed for this,” said Majid Dar.

“Zaroor,” people shouted. After all this was the fruit of three years’ wait and struggle. What a pleasant sight. But more than 250 KV what was pleasant: people were together, again.

But the event was not to evade Majid Dar’s signature. Next day when transformer was set on its new bed he ordered to connect the jumper wire, while readying himself with a plate of toffee in his hand. Everyone stupidly showed their jaws, but everyone was calm – a glow in everyone’s eyes. But no one cared the oddness of the man’s new adventure: for, everyone was overwhelmed by the emotion. When first string was raised with a huge stick, he sprinkled the fistful of toffees in the air. And children waiting underneath his huge jungle man’s figure, with their gazes simultaneously at the jumpers and his fist, pounced on the ground as the toffees landed.

Another jumper, and another fistful of toffees in the air, and so on. Till now the ritual had been limited to marriage ceremonies and funerals of martyrs only. As the bridegroom walks into his home with his bride, toffees pour from all the sides like hailstones, and flower petals like snowflakes. In 1990s the ritual extended to martyrs funerals as well. Whenever a young man was killed in cross-firing or while fighting Indian army, women showered toffees and flowers of multiple colors, signifying the youthfulness or bachelordom of the martyred.

People may never be united again. But they will never forget the day that united them: “16-01-2015”, as mark on the bed reads.

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