This month I wanted to write about the plight of captive elephants in the Terai, but was distracted by the fact that I didn’t even have enough juice left in my laptop to write a single email, or make a post on Facebook complaining that there has been no electricity in my home for more than 30 hours. Somehow this deficit in electrical energy is sapping my capacity to care about such matters, and that is worrisome. The drain on the electrical grid of Nepal seems to be directly related to my drained emotions when it comes to anything but basic survival. Like when is my next hot meal coming, or when can I make a cup of tea?
I hate the fact that my state of being has been hijacked by what I can get out of a wall socket, or how full of joy I am depends on how full my inverter batteries are. I’d never realized that my state of being could be so closely tied to a state of electricity, but historically thinking, that makes perfect sense. Electricity is life, after all.
Anyone who has read Mary Shelley or seen any of the classic Frankenstein movies will recall how electricity is related to life. Experiments first conducted on frogs during the mid-18th century backed up her theory, as well as her excellent novel. A noted (non-fictional) scientist of the time named Galvani theorized that animals contained electricity, and his experiments that made frog legs jump using electrical current not only established a connection between living beings and electricity, but also made him one of the original animal abusers within the scientific community.
Luckily for the frogs of the day, in 1781 another scientist named Volta disproved Galvani’s theory of animal electricity by replacing frog legs with brine-soaked paper, thus saving untold numbers of frogs from electrocution, as well as paving the way to the invention of the battery. Yet Galvani’s experiments were continued by other well-regarded scientists of the time, such as Giovanni Aldini, who is best known for sticking iron rods into the mouths and ears of corpses and using electrical current to make their jaws move and eyes open.
To this day, this phenomenon can be found in living subjects, as with my Nepali neighbors, who scream wide-eyed in delight each time the NEA turns on the lights - Malai khusi laagyo is the general feeling whenever loadshedding ends here. So it seems that I am not alone with my initial premise, that our wellbeing is directly related to our ability to have a well-lit home, and to have the power to induce water to boil for tea.
Modern day science provides even more insight into the relationship of electricity and our wellbeing, with recent research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology showing that the more intense the electrical lighting within our homes, the greater our emotions surrounding our wellbeing is. This research also contradicts the notion that sunlight plays a factor in depression, as sunlight alone was not found to be a stimulating factor in the study. Instead, brighter indoor lighting was found to reduce our suicidal tendencies and even make one feel they were more attractive, or even crave spicy food (another indicator of wellbeing, according to science).
In addition, an increase of indoor lighting was also shown to make subjects within the control group feel warmer, even though the ambient temperate was anything but. I can attest to the validity of these results here at home, as I do feel much warmer when the single 5 watt bulb in my living room is on (no loadshedding), than when it is not (too much loadshedding, batteries now dead). I’m sure any of you at home can try this experiment yourself, just wait until the next time NEA cuts power for 24 hours or more and your home’s ambient temperature is 4 degrees or less.
“We suggest that these effects arise because light underlies our perception of heat, and perception of heat can trigger the hot emotional system,” the study goes on to say. For those of you not in the know, cognitive scientists believe that there are two emotional systems at play within the human mind, one cold and one hot, with the latter being responsible for our ability to learn, to remember and to be compassionate to others. So in short, without lights, we can be reduced to uncaring vegetable matter, and possibly forget that one of the major roles of any government is to keep the lights on for its constituency. Hmmm…
This certainly seems to be the current case in Nepal, where even I am forgetting what spicy food tastes like, living on a substance of cold water and saltine crackers - with no hot Dhal Bhat in over a week! And the double whammy of no electricity and no cooking gas is taking its toll on all family members here, with my best friend and Alsatian Krypto becoming increasingly grumpy at his lack of hot dog food, and his annoyance with me growing as I cuddle with him for body heat during these past few days of near zero nights. Grrr (and brrr).
So dear reader, with the scientific evidence clear that electricity is not just a convenience (or in our case, it’s lack inconvenient) but instead a mental health concern, I feel we should immediately petition the NEA that loadshedding be banned, on emotional health reasons as well as physical health reasons, or there will be dire consequences for the entire population. For example, if the power goes out here again unscheduled (as it just did), I may be forced to stick an iron rod between my ears, or at best, take a hammer to my dead inverters. Things are that bad.