Down The Exxon Lane — 8

Blessed are those who sleep blissfully

Illustration by Atiya Nadeem

Sindh is probably the hottest province of Pakistan. Temperatures in summers, in the interior Sindh, range between 110 to 120 F (40–50C), and summers are long and unrelenting. It was Sindh where many of Esso Fertilizer’s salesmen and agronomists worked in the early days of the company.

Even though they were happy and motivated with their four-figure’ salaries, brand new Volkswagens, and Land Cruisers, they had to brave the brutal heat and dust every day visiting their dealers and farmers. Their vehicles were not air-conditioned. (This was the 60s and early 70s. Air conditioning, both in homes and cars, came later.)

Every salesman and agronomist logged nearly 50 to 60 miles daily on narrow dirt roads, often choking through a cloud of dust thrown up by a vehicle ahead, and kicking up a cloud of their own. They returned home in the evening, dusty and exhausted, to rooms where only ceiling fans churned hot air.

Siddiqui was our salesman in Sanghar (سانگھڑ ), a nondescript town of Sindh, with a population of about 20,000 people and poor housing. He had a delicate constitution and was a non-complaining person — quiet and shy. The only complaint he would occasionally voice was the excessive heat. Once, when he came to the Hyderabad regional office, sweat pouring down his face, I asked him if it was too hot outside. “Must be 150”, he said, without any trace of humor in his voice. (We measured temperature in Fahrenheit those days.)

The company, realizing their hardship, decided to give one18000 BTU window air-conditioner (AC) to every salesman and agronomist in the field for their homes. Everyone was happy at the news and eagerly looked forward to sleeping in the comfort of cool bedrooms. Hadn’t Siddiqui been so shy, he would have actually danced at hearing the news.

The air conditioners finally arrived from Karachi and were duly installed at the homes of the field staff.

A few days later, Siddiqui turned up in the regional office, not looking particularly happy. I asked him what was the matter. He had this story to tell about the AC at his home.

The AC was installed in their bedroom. Having done with the evening house routines, the whole family — husband, wife, and two children — converged all in the same bedroom expecting to spend a breezy, blissful night.

Following the instructions in the manual that came with the AC, Siddiqui switched on the unit, first to the ‘fan’ setting and then, after a little wait, to ‘cool’. A gentle gust of cold air flowed out of the AC, he said, and it began to feel heavenly. Just then, even before they could snuggle into their beds, they heard a crackling sound outside in the street. They looked out of the window and saw sparks showering down from the electric pole. In no time, the other electric poles on the street also lit up, one by one, in a display of fireworks. And the whole street — and the neighborhood — went dark.

The 25KV transformer that served the neighborhood could light up only so many bulbs and fans. The 18,000 BTU AC turned out to be the last ampere on the old transformer’s back. It blew up!

It took WAPDA, the power supply company never known for efficiency, 24 hours to repair the fault. Poor Siddiqui and family — and the rest of the neighborhood — had to endure a sleepless night in the sweltering heat of Sanghar without even the fans.

Siddiqui never touched the AC again, nor did he complain about the heat anymore. End

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