The old man in the light shop…


We are doing up our new house. So, we went to buy some energy efficient CFL bulbs. After careful consideration, we bought yellow CFLs to maintain the ‘warm feel’ of our home.

These bulbs also come with a one year warranty. As we waited for the shopkeeper to write the date with a permanent marker on our CFLs, a bent old man walked into the shop.

As often happens with people like him, we didn’t even hear him ask for whatever he wanted. I noticed the shopkeeper pass him a standard incandescent bulb, in its classic cardboard wrapping, across the counter and thought, “There! Now this man will consume so much more electricity with that bulb. People should really get more aware about their carbon footprints….” (and more along these lines- “Environment, Conservation, GHGs, Resource depletion, Climate Change…”)

The old man hadn’t left the shop even when our bill was being made. So I noticed him again. He was painstakingly untying a knot in his grimy handkerchief, while the shopkeeper’s assistant looked impatiently on. The old, gnarled fingers, the bent nails, finally got the knot open and handed the assistant a crumpled Rs.10 note and fumbled with a number of coins, finally counting out 2 Rs.1 coins.

His light bulb cost Rs.12. And these Rs.12 were very dear.

4 CFLs, their packaging, the permanent marker, its ink, our debit card, the card payment machine, the card payment transaction, the transaction slip, a proper bill (we said no to a plastic bag) and Rs.750 later, we stepped out of the shop and saw the old man walking on the road outside, clutching the bulb in both his hands.

“We just bought light bulbs probably equal to his monthly income,” my husband remarked quietly. Our carbon footprints joined his on the road and symbolically moved past him- faster, more self-righteous…

Why is an incandescent bulb and Grid Energy so cheap and CFLs or other Alternate Energy systems so formidably costly? This old man gets basic illumination in his one-room home at Rs.12, probably by throwing a hook on a grid live-wire. How can we make that old man buy into Alternate Energy? Can I really ask him to change his energy consumption pattern?

How many carbon footprints does it take to really change a light bulb?


2 thoughts on “The old man in the light shop…

  1. Very nicely and sensitively written article Radhika. Well done. It is really thought provoking. You have pointed out a very important aspect – the socio-economic side of the issue, which is equally important…may be more!!! Loved its ending.

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