Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Old Kerosene Lamp

The Old Kerosene Lamp

My childhood days were different in comforts and luxuries from these days. Though it dates back to only fifty years, tremendous fast changes have happened to my country during this span of time. Electricity is not a luxury now, but an essential comfort. But in my childhood days electric connection in a house was a luxury and a sign of social status. We had to make some wiring in the house, apply for electric connection in the Electricity Office and wait for three or four years to get a new connection to our house. Even applying for electric connection and telephone connection improved the social status. We also had to go through the same road for a new electric connection.

Before we ever got electric connection, we used kerosene lamps in houses. Kerosene lamps were available in different sizes and shapes made with different materials. Poor people used small kerosene lamps made with thin metal sheet with an open rope like wick at the top. The metal container at the bottom contained 100 ml or less kerosene. The lamp is lighted at the wick. The burning wick emitted light, smoke and the suffocating smell of kerosene.

We were richer than some others in the village. Our lamp was made of glass. The base was round and made from hard glass. Since it was transparent, we could see the kerosene inside. Above the glass base it had a burner made of metal. The burner held the flat cotton wick. The wick was white and clean. The burner and the wick had a removable glass cover. This thin glass canopy had a beautiful organic shape. Some of them bore small colored flowers on it as design. As the wick is lightened, the light falls through the flowers printing beautiful color patterns on the table or nearby walls.

As a small boy, it was my duty to light the lamp every day by dusk. I had to clean the bottom part, the burner and the glass canopy of the lamp from dust and smoke. My father was so insistent that the lamp should look clean. Only a clean lamp can send out clean light.

After cleaning all parts and the tip of the wick, I light the wick using a stick from the safety matchbox. I lowered the wick with the help of a small lever at the side of the burner to the minimum so that it will not emit smoke or will not put off. Then I placed the thin glass canopy over it. That was done with much precaution. After placing the glass canopy over the burner, I raised the wick slowly. This was the moment of the scientist and mathematician in me. The wick is raised to emit the maximum light but not any layer of smoke. Even the thinnest invisible layer of smoke could paint the canopy grey.  If it ever happened, my father will not be happy at the inexpertise on my part.

The smoke on the glass canopy, if it ever falls on it, will hinder the passage of light emitted by the burning wick. The lamp cannot lighten my house. The white walls of my house will not be decorated by beautiful colorful patterns from the lamp. Thus the lamp fails to fulfill its purpose of existence. The wick burns, but no light in the room. No beautiful color patterns on the wall.

It is a precautious task to light and raise the wick to the maximum light and still keep the glass canopy clean from smoke.

Life should emit maximum light and beautiful color patterns around us. At the same time, our life should never cast a smoke shadow on others life.
This is the beautiful act of balancing life.

Professor Jacob Abraham

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