After three months of trying to find a place to stay in this tiny rural town, tomorrow I’m finally moving into my home for the next six months. I knew that fully furnished flats are hard to come by in the large Indian cities of Mumbai and Delhi, but until now I never gave much thought to my options in Chakradharpur.
My new flat is bare, as in no hot water, no back-up electricity supply and no A/C (not to mention furniture). When I have electricity, I’ll fill up a bucket with water and heat it with a bare coil. My choices for a stove are a gas tank with a open flame (think of a larger version of a camping stove) or an induction stove that runs on electricity. Because I won’t have a fridge, I’ll have to go to the market every day or two to buy food.
In the U.S., we call this “living off the grid.” In India, this is part of their every day life. According to the World Bank, over 400 million Indians, or about a third of the population, live with no access to electricity. In many cities and towns there are scheduled power outages, known as load-shedding, where the electricity is rotated from one part of the city to another at specific times. In Chakradharpur, there is no such schedule. In other words, I cannot plan my day around the outages. Rather, the outages might plan my day.
Because of this, I’ll have to make adjustments to my daily routine. My run will now end at the local market so I can pick up the day’s provisions. Some days, I might have to bathe in cold water and I’ll rely on a battery-operated lamp and candles when the power goes off at night. And I don’t even want to think about the lack of A/C in April, when the dry heat slowly creeps up to 100 degrees.
Without a doubt, it will be a challenge to live without the modern conveniences that until recently I never imagined I could live without. But there are good things that will come of this too. I will probably waste less food, my carbon footprint will become smaller (okay, teeny-tiny) and maybe I’ll even learn to make my own cheese (but probably not). And while I’m certain I won’t continue this simple lifestyle when I return to Chicago, I do think learning to live this way will ultimately prove to be empowering. After all, it’s the simple things in life that give us the most pleasure.