India

How to Set Your House on Fire Abroad

So, I finally set my house on fire…

It was only a matter of time, really. At this point, I’m more surprised that I haven’t caught something on fire sooner. (And, no, unfortunately this blog doesn’t end with a truck of sexy Sikh firefighters coming to rescue me).

Friday I was working from home in the late afternoon, enjoying things the Haryana Department of Education lacks: AC next to my bed, high speed internet, and the leisures of not wearing pants. My laptop was safely plugged into the wall (it’s always good to keep it full, you never know when the power will go out).

When you straighten half your hair before work and then the power goes out
When you straighten half your hair before work and then the power goes out

Suddenly I heard the AC turn off followed by a deceptively innocent sounding “pop” from the outlet. I looked up to see smoke squeezing out of the socket. Naturally, I panicked, slapped off the power to the outlet, unplugged my laptop, and carefully removed the (hot) plug from the wall.  I decided it was nothing (mostly because I wanted to ignore how potentially bad this could be) and decided to leave my AC off for awhile.

Switches to turn the outlet on and off

 

So I turned the fan on.

Nothing.

Then I tried the light in my room.

Still nothing.

I hoped it was just a routine power outage. I tried the light in the living room.

It tried so hard. I could see tiny bits of light flickering around the corners. I almost pitied the pathetic little thing. Likewise, my router still had the one red light flickering.

That was it. Not a single other light/fan/or appliance worked. But since those two sort of worked, I knew it wasn’t a power outage. So I went to the breaker box and turned everything off and everything back on.

Still nothing.

I spent another ten minutes standing around hopelessly, plotting whether I could sleep at Priya’s house, not sure how to survive June in India without a fan, AC, or wifi. And then after ten minutes my lights all miraculously returned. For some reason my router only stayed on if the living room light stayed on but I assumed that was just “something Indian” and went back in my room to work. Crisis averted!

 

 

 

No.

 

 

 

Nothing can ever be that easy in this country.

After about ten minutes I smelled smoke so I reexamined the outlet. Then I realized smoke was billowing into my bedroom. I ran into the living room to see the living room light spewing smoke and blackening the wall behind it.

Indian buildings always have way more switches than appliances/lights associated with them
Indian buildings always have way more switches than appliances/lights associated with them
I literally only know what two of these switches do
I literally only know what two of these switches do

So I turned off all the lights, turned out everything on the broker box, and sweating from 3 minutes without AC, called my landlord. He told me he, and the entire family, would be gone until late the next day.

Shit.

He asked if it was an emergency. I calmly said, “yes. I believe your house is on fire.”

I explained the story two or three times to him but he was still unsure of the details. At some point he hung up and called back. He told me the handyman who lives at the house was also gone for another hour or so but he would call an electrician.

Yes. Anything. Bring him.

Of course, attempting to speak to the electrician was another matter. I sat outside on the stairs out of the sun reading To Kill A Mockingbird for about 30 minutes before the man came. I didn’t know how much the landlord had explained to him, so I used my best Hindi.

I pointed to the breaker box
“toh…sab atcha hai,” (so…everything is good) 

I pointed to the living room light
“lekin yuhuh dhuaan the,” (but here was smoke)

I pointed to the outlet in my bedroom
aur yuhuh dhuaan the,” (and here was smoke)

toh…..nehi atcha hai.” (So….not good)

He seemed to get the picture and started doing something. I just sat inside and watched sweat pool from my forehead onto the book. At some point he summed me outside and was saying something about a wire and so I nodded furiously as he spoke. Then I realized he was asking me a question, so admitted that I didn’t understand.

My Tardis: because it's bigger on the inside
My Tardis: because it’s bigger on the inside

After about thirty minutes he had everything working again and had me run around the house and test every light switch and every outlet. He spent some extra time on the AC and then kept asking me things in Hindi so I just kept saying, “sab tik hai” (everything is okay) “abhi sab atcha hai” (everything is good now).

Honestly, I have no idea what he did and if this is a long-term fix to the fact that I had a small electrical fire. But I sort of completed an emergency task in Hindi so I’m giving myself a gold star for adulting abroad today!

What is the verb “to adult” in Hindi?

5 Comments

  1. Mom

    You sure know how to freak out your mother. Please sleep with one eye open until you are Sure Sure Sure that the electricity won’t burst into flames again.

    But, yes, you get a gold adulting star today. And I get a gold parent of an adulting star for not calling you and demanding that you get another apartment. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Mom

    PS I like the curly look. Also: running AC, plus hair straightener, plus computer, lights, etc. on one line- guaranteed overload even in the US. Time to learn Hindi electricity terms? : )
    Still earned the gold star tho.

    Reply
    1. admin Author

      It was only AC and computer. Lights, fan, straightener were all off. Even now if I try to do AC and have anything plugged in, everything shuts off. So I’m being careful with the AC for the rest of the summer. I’ll try not to burn the place to the ground 😀

      Reply
  3. Glad your’re okay. Your story reminds me a bit of our Christmas Eve Stove Fire of 2008, when our fifty plus year old stove started shooting flames. I was lucky to have my personal electrical engineer here, and his English is good on most days.

    Reply

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