It doesn’t just limit itself to two times either as, in sixteen years, it has struck the phone line seven times with five disastrous results, one double-whammy and a major catastrophe, from which yours truly is still reeling in shock.
My first experience of being ‘struck’ was in the midst of a ferocious winter storm — one of such viciousness that ‘La-La Land’, as my mountain home is called, was in danger of being blown to a completely new location somewhere in the outer realms of a distant galaxy. As lightning struck the corrugated iron roof of my house, a mind-numbing zap was accompanied with an electrifying blinding blue that enclosed my world.
The phone line: This is inventively strung, looped over and dangled across at least two kilometres of mixed forest cover. The forest, despite the predations of indigenous firewood hunters and the forest guards themselves, manages to drape itself around the mountains in the manner of a multi-green moth-eaten shawl and there is, as I am repeatedly told by various PTCL engineers and others tasked with answering my questions, no way to protect it from the lightning it attracts. I am also told that gadgets like voltage regulators/stabilisers aren’t of the slightest bit of use in protecting electronics as lightning travels so incredibly fast — at the ‘speed of light’ of course — that things are blown up before the voltage regulators/stabilisers have a clue what hit them.
What does happen though, when things are ‘hit’, is that they object in totally unexpected ways: Telephones, no matter their weight, size and colour, uniformly shriek in an ear-piercing falsetto, spring straight up in to the air and turn a brilliant blue before radiating enough clear light to illuminate the deepest, darkest gloom (3 am being the preferred time for such occurrences) and go off with a nerve-shattering BANG that a cannon would be proud of!
Five ‘La-La Land’ telephones have gone this way so far, yet a recent house guest still found it hilarious that amongst my back-up supplies of this, that and the other, is one brand spanking new telephone — just in case.
The double-whammy was an early evening event of spectacular impact: Having heard a rolling rumble of thunder announcing a storm, I quickly checked for lightning flashes and — yes, there they were — rushed back to my desktop computer, shut it down and switched it off. Being in a tearing hurry and with my mind in ‘multi-task’ mode, I forgot to also disconnect the modem from the telephone and, shame on me, forgot to disconnect the telephone itself. I paid for my mistake about fifteen minutes later when, withthunder claps reverberating through the walls, there was the usual frying telephone song and dance performance accompanied by a totally unexpected pistol shot, red glow and — smoke!
Since then, I began keeping a spare modem in stock as well, though I forgot to tell my house guest this.
A couple of weeks ago I trekked off down to Islamabad for a series of business meetings followed by lunch with friends — an extremely enjoyable, giggly affair, by the way — and arrived home much later than planned to attack a backlog of urgent work. ‘Urgent’ meant that impatient editors had either phoned or sent text messages about rapidly approaching deadlines. So, with dogs walked, cats fed and budgies put to bed, I got comfortably engrossed on my laptop computer. Just then, a lengthy thunder growl warned of an imminent storm so, cursing loudly, I hastily shut down the computer and disconnected from the DSL system. Then I made a mug of coffee and sat down to wait the storm out as the work had to be written and sent off before I could call it a night. The storm attacked in full force, rampaged on and was, much to my relief, over and done with in just over 30 minutes. Playing it safe, I waited another 30 minutes, scanning the sky for lightning every few minutes, before deciding that work could resume. Still being in a ‘fun with friends’ frame of mind, I put on ‘The Best of U2’ on full blast as I slaved away.
Bono was hitting the high notes of ‘With or without you’ when … aaaaaaagh!
Zap, zip, fizzle, swizzle, boom, crack, kerr-boom! The smoke and flicker of a deadly flame sent me reeling back from my precious laptop computer. I cursed loudly as Bono fell silent and a spectacular fireworks display vied for ‘Pride of Performance’!
The storm had snuck back. Well, maybe it had roared back but I couldn’t hear anything except Bono … and the lightning had struck the telephone line, blown the modem and also totally sizzled, fried and otherwise ‘murdered’ the laptop. That was it…dead as the proverbial dodo!
Once the eye stinging smell and haze of melted plastic cleared, I — very tentatively, in case ‘it’ fought back — reached out and touched the smoking remains of the machine I had once loathed but come to honour, love and …dare I admit it…. ‘obey’. No hair-raising electric shock blew me off my feet, nothing screamed, not a sound — aside from a furtive hiss — was heard so, still incredulous of what I had just witnessed, I gently tapped ‘Start’. Obviously, not a darn thing happened, but I had to check. It was 11.30 pm, the electricity supply had blown too so I was in the dark, and there was nothing for it except to accept that the situation was entirely my own fault for allowing Bono to drown out reality and cost me a packet in the process!
For the curious, and no doubt there are some, the outer-casing, keyboard and screen of the laptop looked fine but the mother board had melted. By an absolute miracle, data on the hard drive was intact and retrieved by the computer whizz to whom I morosely presented the evidence.
And therefore, in the light of my experience (pun intended), I would say that lightning does strike more than once.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 17th, 2012.
More in MagazineOne man mission