“It was a tough day. I was on pins and needles the whole day, in anticipation of that hour. I could hardly work. I so wanted to make a contribution.” Taking a swig of bottled water transported from five hundred miles away, he continued, with evident satisfaction of a job well done, “but, on the balance, the wait was worthwhile. In order to beat the stress I was experiencing, I drove around town aimlessly. I even played some Playstation games in the evening. It makes you feel good to be able to give back. The feeling you get when you contribute to something greater than yourself is incomparable.”
“That is the time of day I am usually on the road on my way back home after work. Not to miss out on this opportunity that comes once a year, I got my driver to drive back home and fetch my son’s bicycle. Then, after work, as the hour had come, I rode the bicycle home with the driver driving the car behind me. I even instructed the driver not to run the air-conditioning in the car”, he said, looking at the mirror on the wall, as if trying to locate the halo he expected should have sprouted around his head by now and tenderly touching a spot on his neck he believed would be the point at which it is tethered.
Let us call them Friend A and Friend B, in order of appearance in this story. The three of us, third being me in case you did not guess, were meeting over a cup of coffee to catch-up and discuss some business possibilities. It was a few days after the day the world had contributed towards saving the environment during Earth Hour. But the reverberations were still being felt.
“Couldn’t agree more. After all we have a responsibility towards the future generations. If we don’t discharge our responsibilities, who will?”, asked Friend A, rhetorically. “I had instructed one of my team-members to stay back in office and ensure all lights and ACs were kept on till 8 PM, the Earth Hour time, so that we could switch them off sharp at 8 and contribute. Normally they would be switched off at 6 PM, when most people leave office.”
“I had asked my wife, who was at home, to switch on the ACs in the house at least a couple of hours earlier than usual. Even the ones we don’t normally use,” said Friend B.
“That was very thoughtful of you”, complimented Friend A, while making a mental note of doing the same when Earth Hour came around the following year.
By now it seems they had realised something was amiss. I was not participating in the discussion. Perhaps seeing the blank look on my face, like a sensitive, concerned friend, Friend A slapped me on the back of my head and asked, “What’s biting you? The cat got your tongue?”
I was feeling smaller and smaller as the conversation had progressed. I had always felt out of place in such discussions. But, with the Earth Hour looming large, I was afraid my inability to participate in affairs of the world would finally be exposed.
“I could not switch off my ACs”, I said in a feeble voice.
There was a look of disgust on their faces which they tried to hide for the sake of old friendship. Unsuccessfully, as always. “What right does this fellow have to endanger our future generations?” was the question writ large on their faces.
“But why? I am sure you know how to”, Friend B asked in a reassuring voice.
I looked sheepishly from one to the other. Then said, “because I did not have them on.”
This statement confused them. But they quickly gathered themselves. “But why?” they asked in unison. “Why did you not have them on?”
I was trying to avert their piercing gaze. Looking down at the floor, I said, “I am sorry. But the weather has been quite pleasant. I have not felt the need to use ACs. Even today, a week after the Earth Hour, I am not using ACs.”
Friend B gave me a pitying look as if to say “you are beyond redemption.” He added, in a slightly exasperated tone, “Fine, you did not switch off your ACs. But at least you would have switched off your water-heater.”
I was hoping the earth would open up and swallow me. No words came from my mouth. I could only shake my head from side to side in denial.
There was a look of even greater disgust on their faces which they tried to hide for the sake of old friendship. Unsuccessfully, as usual. “Not only has he tried to endanger future generations through his actions, he is even trying to endanger the lifestyle of the present generation through his utterly responsible and unnecessary ways. Not only has he not been running ACs, he has even been bathing in unheated water”, was writ large on their faces.
After a few minutes they softened a little. We were old friends after all. Friend A tried to reason with me. “Don’t you see the problem? If you don’t sleep with the AC on, how will you be able to run the water-heater through the night and bathe in hot water in the morning? You will not feel the need.”
Seeing that the logic had not registered, he tried again. “Look, let me say this in a different manner. If you don’t bathe in hot water in the warmer months, how will you have the urge to emerge from the hot shower into an air-conditioned room?”, he asked, with irrefutable logic.
“So, guess what, we were able to contribute even more to the environment by switching off the water-heaters as well. Everyone knows they are second only to ACs in power consumption”, Friend B added helpfully.
I was having trouble meeting their eyes. I never knew they carried such a flame for the environment in their hearts. AC because it is too hot. And water-heater because it is too cold. Masterful. And then switching off both for Earth Hour.
“Look, I can understand some of this can be difficult to do. But you are a smart guy. I am sure you will do better next year. All it takes is a little practice. A big party has been arranged this weekend to celebrate the successful observance of Earth Hour. It is an all-night party, under lights, in an AC venue. People who made sacrifices for the Earth Hour need to relax and let their hair down. Join us there. You will be able to experience the joy felt by people who were able to contribute”, Friend A said reassuringly.
“I even carry the news-item in my pocket”, Friend B said, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper as proof of his commitment to the cause. I had read that piece a couple of days back. It called upon people to actively contribute to the Earth Hour by turning off unnecessary lights and electrical gadgets to show you care about the environment. It was a stirring call to action.
“Next year we are thinking of instituting a prize for the person who turned off the maximum number of unnecessary equipment that he had been keeping on for the rest of the year. And for creative ideas. Like the folks who have kept their back-up power generator running even though there is no need for back-up power, so that the Earth Hour savings can extend beyond electricity to fossil fuels.”
Yet another Earth Hour had come and gone.
Yet another opportunity I had missed of not contributing to the cause by switching off things that I had needlessly put on.