Niall Ferguson: Blackout Just the Beginning in India

Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.

The British—slightly less than a thousand of them—used to govern India. Without air-conditioning.

Conan O’Brien was not the only one who watched the London Olympic opening ceremonies with amazement. "Hard to believe my ancestors were conquered by theirs," he tweeted. Every Indian watching must have been thinking the very same.

Until their TVs went dark.

The recent power outage in India interested me more than the Olympics. (I had a very British reaction to the opening ceremonies: I found them excruciatingly embarrassing.) The Indian blackout was surely the biggest electricity failure in history, affecting a staggering 640 million people. If you have ever visited Delhi in the summer, you will have some idea what it must have felt like.

"Every door and window was shut," Rudyard Kipling recalled of summer in the scorched Indian plains, "for the outside air was that of an oven. The atmosphere within was only 104 degrees, as the thermometer bore witness, and heavy with the foul smell of badly-trimmed kerosene lamps; and this stench, combined with that of native tobacco, baked brick, and dried earth, sends the heart of many a strong man down to his boots, for it is the smell of the Great Indian Empire when she turns herself for six months into a house of torment."

There was a reason the British moved their capital to the cool Himalayan hill station of Simla every summer. Maybe today’s Indian government should consider following their example...

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