Ravi Mangla


The dimmer switch wasn't working properly. Or to be more precise, the dimmer switch worked properly only to a point. Pressed beyond a certain threshold, it thrust the room into an awful, all-consuming light. (I concede that awful is an odd choice of qualifier to describe the effects of light, but when one is expecting a cozying, mood-inducing glow, anything stronger than a hushed luminescence comes off as obscene. Consider the last time you stepped out of a movie theatre on a sunny day.) At first I feared the fault was with my fingers (bulbous, bungling things that could hardly be expected to button a button), though even close friends and neighbors (and once, a delivery man), when requisitioned to toggle the switch, found its gradations jarring and left the house visibly frustrated, their foreheads ridged with furrows. I called the manufacturer (three times, in fact) to lodge a formal complaint. However, when I attempted to describe the nature of the problem, how the dimmer jumped from shades of light to shades of dark with an insufficient range of tones in between, the explanation became labored and without the haziest of aims, and the consumer relations representative—in that calm, detached manner of theirs—assured me the dimmer switch was perfectly fine and a replacement fixture wasn't necessary. These assurances would placate me for a day or so, and then I would return to fidgeting with the switch, seeking to strike a fragile truce between opposing poles. Never had I fixated so intently on a minor household item, yet the lever had upended the established hierarchy of idle thought. I couldn't manage a half minute of middling reflection before my mind cycled back to the switch. Maybe these were the sorts of bourgeois problems that ushered the wealthy into lives of lavish eccentricity. (Although it is worth noting that I am neither exorbitantly wealthy nor a child of privilege.) Was it presumptive of me to expect a degree of delicacy from a dimmer switch? Life is, after all, little more than a series of competing dualities (light and dark, life and death, order and disorder, etc.). Nuance is a rare offering in the natural world. I could hardly expect the switch to be an exception to this rule. I called my wife, with whom I was recently separated, on the Australian coast (where she had been sent to report on the picketers—or was it the cricketers?—I couldn't for the life of me remember), and I asked her for her opinion on the dimmer, whether she felt I'd been swindled by the salesperson. She reminded me that the number provided was for emergencies, and she didn't want to regret placing her contact information in my care. On this note our phone call ended (no word on which way the toilets swirled). I looked up the number for the manufacturer and dialed their all-night line. The automated teller, with whom I was already acquainted, placed me on an extended hold and cued the waiting music. I hummed along with its timeworn chorus. The song—I remembered the song from the wedding reception. Her head resting on the crest of my shoulder, the ballroom lights dimmed to dark