The Death Of a Transformer


I heard this word “Transformer” when I was a kid. No not in the school, not on the TV, but on the phone. Whenever there was a power outage we used to call the local electricity department and the voice on the other side always blamed it on the “Transformer”.

With in a few minutes from our house was this old, rugged, worn out, ready to give up transformer which controlled, not the daylight but the nightlight of the entire colony which had about 2000 people. While the transformer did it best to protect the people from the outage, it had to deal with heavy winds, severe rains, falling trees, trespassing and constant abuses from one and all. It even allowed grass to grow, cows to graze, children to pee, people to use it as a dumpster making itself in accessible during emergencies and exposing itself to environmental hazards.

And almost once in a year there will be a breakdown as if the transformer was feeling neglected and wanted some attention for itself. The linemen would come, take a few hours and get the transformer back in shape. It’s just like we wait till we get sick to go to the doctor but do nothing at all to avoid getting sick. The problem itself was so common anytime there was a power failure, even my grandmother, who was not educated at all knew the word Transformer and even she would complain about it. One thing that really was frustrating was transformer would get sick in the middle of the night and just like how difficult it is to get medical attention in emergency it was very difficult to get hold of someone at that hour to get the problem fixed. As a matter of fact there was no such thing as an emergency for the electricity department. The electricity department on its own never inspected the transformer, never done any evaluations and neither did the people ever ask for it. There was no such thing as a disaster management it was only a disaster.

Despite all the short comings, all the cribbing and the frustration, the transformer continued to exist and no one asked it to retire. The residents never really pushed the electricity department to take care of the transformer not until it’s death. They had to force the electricity department to replace it with a new one.

While the transformer died a rather tragic death, its death taught important lessons.
1) just having a transformer doesn’t guarantee continuous power supply.
2) needs to be maintained properly
3) people need to take ownership and responsibility for the transformer
4) should be protected from trespassing
5) have evaluations done on a regular basis

The Transformer was just a metaphor for everything else in personal or public life. Be it a public hospital or a public school, it’s not enough to just have this institutions, we need to take ownership of these institutions and hold them accountable and responsible.

My biggest fear is we are not there yet to take charge of things in our public life and are we are not socially responsible to the extent we should be, at least yet. When a transformer in the corner or a hospital or a school in the center cannot be looked at after and we cant hold the authorities for its smooth functioning, how can we handle a complex nuclear power plant. Because we can afford the death of a transformer but not the death of a nuclear power plant as that would mean death for the entire generation of the people living around. This is not a hypothesis, this is my fear when I look at what’s going at the kudankulam power plant or how the Bhopal gas victims are being treated (or not being treated actually).

The question to ask is not whether these protests are funded by foreign NGO’s, the question to ask is what can the govt do address there’s protestors concern around safety, around rehabilitation, around disaster management, about liability. I don’t need a scientist to talk about nuclear rods, about double containment systems to convince that nuclear power plants are safe, who understands this language at least not the people who live in some proximities to the nuclear plant.

I think it’s time someone speaks the truth and is brave enough to say why Bhopal is still an issue, why are there more people living near the plant then the permissible numbers and it’s time someone speaks to the people protesting and not trying to scare them or arrest them. Like i said before, this is not a transformer, it’s a nuclear power plant.

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