he alarm clock rattled for about ten seconds before Raghavan could reach out to turn it off. It was a swiss handwound alarm clock that his grandfather got in the 1920s and he grew up waking to the sound of it every day. Raghavan lay flat with his eyes closed trying to extend his weekend by another minute. He knew his Monday had begun and reluctantly got off from his bed. He went straight to the bathroom and looked at his face in the mirror and stroked his two day stubble, thinking whether he would look good with a beard. ‘A French beard maybe’, he thought to himself reaching out for the toothbrush.
He emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later and walked across the hall and opened the main door to his house. The milkman had dropped two sachets of milk, his usual. He picked them up and walked to the kitchen. He poured the milk into the utensil, turning on the stove thinking about the filter coffee that his mother Rajam used to make. She was an expert in making traditional Kumbakonam Degree coffee that was the favorite amongst her friends and neighbors. Raghavan sighed. The milk came to a boil by that time.
He reached out for the switch and tried to turn on the light. The sun was out and it was getting brighter outside, but it was still dark inside his house. The light did not turn on. Raghavan flicked the switch a couple of time. Nothing happened. ‘Must be a power cut as usual’, Raghavan told himself. That means his morning routine of watching the news on cable TV cannot happen.
Just then he heard his neighbor Ambujam yell at the watchman of their apartment complex that there was no water flowing from the taps. The watchman said he would have to turn on the motor pump to fill the overhead water tank, but the power was out in the entire area. Ambujam had two young children who went to a school nearby and the mornings were a very stressful time for her as she got them ready. Ambujam accused the watchman of failing to turn the motor pump during the night and started fighting with him. Their voices faded out slowly as Raghavan walked into the hall from the balcony.
Raghavan opened the tap in the bathroom and heard a water droplet plop confirming the reality of that morning. He picked a bucket and hurried downstairs to the underground sump that was the storage tank that held water pumped by the metrowater authorities. There was a posse of people there, many in their night clothes, who also had buckets in their hand and a simmering anger in their faces. It was apparent why they were angry. A car was parked with its handbrake on, right above the manhole covering the sump and there was no way to move the car and access the sump below.
The crowd almost erupted in cheers as someone located the car owner who came running with the car keys jingling. He opened the car door, got in and turned the ignition on. The car wouldn’t start. There was a grumble from the crowd and someone suggested that they push the car after releasing the handbrake. Raghavan had different plans.
He knew about the only well in that apartment compound and walked towards it. The well was a modern day surprise in Chennai. It still had water and legend was that it never dried up, even during the severe water scarcity in drought hit Chennai. The builder of the apartment complex left the well intact and that was going to save Raghavan's day. When Raghavan reached the well, he was frustrated to discover that at least ten of his neighbors had beat him to the punch and were already in a queue. Sathyanand, the apartment association secretary was trying to regulate the queue and ensure that people got their water in turns.
After ten minutes, many flared tempers, verbal abuses and what not, Raghavan drew water from the well and headed back to his house. He finished his bath, taking care to use the water effectively. He picked a blue shirt and dark trousers to go with it, got dressed up. He picked his laptop bag and cell phone. His cell phone battery had also died; there was no way to charge it. He unplugged the cell phone charger from the wall, deciding that he would charge it in his office. He locked his house and went down the stairs, jumping two steps at a time holding the keys in his hand, hoping to make up for lost time.
He located his motorcycle at the same place that he usually parks. He sat on the motorcycle, released the stand and pushed it forward a few feet with his legs, getting out of the slot where it was parked. He turned the keys and kick started the bike. It won’t start.
Raghavan felt an unexplainable sense of uneasiness spread in his stomach. He got off from his motorcycle and pushed it to get outside the apartment complex into the main road. The road was empty. Unusually empty for this time of the day, whatever time it was. He knew the motorcycle mechanic shop two blocks away would be open and wanted to try his luck. Raghavan started pushing his motorcycle towards the mechanic shop when he saw Ambujam’s two children in their school uniforms riding their bicycles and on their way to school.
As he crossed a block, he found a few others like him pushing their bikes towards the mechanic shop. He also noticed that the traffic signal was down and the traffic constable was standing there helpless, scratching his head. Lucky for him, the traffic wasn’t heavy except for the cyclists and bike riders pushing their motorcycles. There was something eerie about that. There were no cars on the road; just bicycles and motorcyclists pushing their bikes.
Raghavan stopped and let his motorcycle fall to the ground. He looked up at the sky all around. In the northwest direction, he noticed the orange glow from the thermonuclear device that exploded in the upper atmosphere at 6:28 AM. Raghavan looked up, took a deep breath and exhaled. He pulled the cuff of his shirt to look at his digital watch. He tapped it twice and shook it a little. Nothing happened. The watch was frozen and showed a time of 6:2…