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Studying under kerosene lamps

I feel nostalgic as I recall the time I spent studying under oil lamps and lanterns in the 1960s and 70s and how my generation struggled to complete school education in the dim lights of kerosene lamps.

Some 50 years ago, like many villages, my village too was left out of rural electrification. So, like our forefathers, we continued to spend the nights under oil lamps.

Once the sun set, life came to a standstill in the village. In pitch-dark nights, people did not dare to venture out except in emergency situations.

The only companions were the small oil lamp inside the house and the stars in the sky outside.

In every household, an oil lamp would be lit at twilight hours. It was the only source of illumination.

Even before 9 o’clock, my entire village would go into a deep slumber by putting out the flickering lamp flame. No trace of human activity would be visible after that.

Wealthy families used lanterns and lamps with or without chimneys in their households. Kerosene was used as fuel in these lamps. As kerosene was in short supply, it would be used sparingly.

As the day dragged on, we siblings would keep ourselves busy by sharing the lamp-related tasks between us.

I would trim the charred wick and clean the lantern with a white cloth. My sister’s duty was to check the fuel level and fill the tank carefully with a funnel. My mother would remove the chimney to wipe clean the soot with wood ash powder and fix it in the frame provided for the lantern.

The chimney made up of glass had to be handled carefully. There were ample chances of damaging the glass while removing it or installing it back in the frame.

By nightfall, all lamps would be made ready for use.

I used to fight with my sibling as to who should light the lamp first. Whoever laid their hands first on the matchbox, got the chance to light the lamp.

Once the lamp was lit, the first task was to finish dinner. Next, we siblings would sit around the lantern to study.

At times, my sibling, in an attempt to go to bed early, would put out the lamp and blame me. I got the punishment despite pleading innocent. I always used to stand as a defenceless accused.

Sometimes, lanterns used to run out of kerosene, forcing us to go to bed, as re-filling it was not preferred in the night.

Unlike the current generation, we were scared of nights. Children were not allowed to go outside and plenty of ghost stories did the rounds.

But now, nights are no longer frightful. With electricity around, elements of fear have gone out the window.

From incandescent bulbs and tube lights to CFL and LED bulbs, we have come a long way in the last 50 years. Now houses are bright and streets are flooded with lights to the extent that people are feeling the effects of light pollution.

Given the electrification all around, oil lamps and lanterns are becoming increasingly remote.

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