As some of you may know, my life is quite entwined with
electricity and as an electrical engineer, I have been involved with power
transmission, distribution and power system protection for so many decades thus
far. Automating power plants, substations and so on provide the funds which run
my life and so it was in the natural course of things that I ventured back in
time to find out when electricity was heralded to that once bustling and
glorious town of Calicut.
Until about 1927 or perhaps 1930’s, there were only lamp posts here and there with kerosene lamps, and an old timer Mr ARS Iyer explains succinctly in his autobiography – “In those days the lanes and bye lanes were not lit well after dark and we normally make it home before it gets too dark. The lanes which we normally take as short cuts to reach home were dotted with lamp posts with only kerosene lamps encased in a glass container as electric street lights were a rarity in those days. A municipal worker carrying a tin of kerosene, a few wicks and a cleaning cloth and a ladder on his shoulders would stop at each of these posts to fill in kerosene in the lamps, change the wick if necessary and wipe clean the glass case of the lamp. He would lit the lamp by sunset every evening, which would burn throughout the night giving light to people to walk safely. I have often watched these men at work fascinated by the clockwork regularity with which they provide the lights to the common man.”
The roads of Calicut sported horse carts (Jutkas) and hand pulled rickshaws, a few bicycles, an odd car now and then and of course some bullock carts. That was Calicut 7-8 decades ago. But let us get to Menon’s story and also meet a couple of other key persons who determined the future course of action.
In the early 30’s Menon’s outfit had started to be trouble prone with the generator failing often and as there were no engineers locally to look into it, they took a long time to repair. The users and of course some who did not get powered up of course used this situation to complain vehemently to the government and write they did with such eloquence that Madras finally took note. Menon in the meantime had no recourse but sell his plant to another interested party and some traders and businessmen who had their eyes on it and perhaps understood the power and profitability of electricity, raised a big hue and cry.
Just imagine! In 1934, Pykara generated just 6.65MW, now the demand in the South is 60,000 MW!! That was a steep climb but then I must admit that the delivery and stability of power supply in Kerala, so much dependent on hydel power plants is still patchy and power cuts still the norm in a country that is seen to be well behind the other stable/galloping economies. Such small facts literally put India into a poor light when seen through the eyes of a foreigner. I can only hope and believe that these things will improve soon…