NEW DELHI - On one level, the power outage that stalled trains, snarled traffic and left hospitals scrambling across much of India was an example of business as usual - except, of course, that this time it covered an area including nearly 10 percent of the world's population.
But taken another way, Tuesday's massive blackout, the second in two days, underscored the yawning gap between India's superpower dreams and a sweltering, gritty reality. Problems with an aging electrical grid, pricing system and inefficient mining practices combined to darken a stretch of northern and eastern India that is home to 600 million people, illustrating deep structural problems.
Among them, analysts say, are a weak and indecisive national government, entrenched bureaucracy and a singular focus on local issues at the expense of the common good, all of which threaten foreign investment and undercut the aspirations of a young, vibrant population.
"The size of this is a surprise," said Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, foreign editor of the Hindustan Times newspaper. "But the fact it happened as a consequence of a whole series of micro-decisions not made, is not."
The trouble started shortly after midnight on Monday. India's northern grid failed, affecting 300 million people in seven states. With the help of power diverted from neighboring states and as far away as Bhutan, service was restored by evening.
It collapsed again shortly after 1 p.m. on Tuesday, taking two more of the country's five grids with it. That left the capital with only 1 percent of its usual power supply and tempers fraying in 90-degree heat.
The Power Grid Corp. of India reported late Tuesday that nearly all service was back to normal. Some 250 coal miners trapped underground when electrical pulley systems stopped were rescued, local media said.
Richa Hingorani, who works for a civic group in Delhi, countered the sweltering heat by fanning herself with a newspaper for hours.
"With bumper-to-bumper traffic, it took me 40 minutes to travel a distance that should've taken 10 minutes," she said. "There's no Internet and little respite when you leave the office, since there are so many crowds."
But many people took the crisis in stride. According to the last census, one-third of the country's 1.2 billion people have no access to electricity, even in the best of circumstances.
And rolling blackouts are common in Indian cities, given the aging grid, an increase in demand by millions buying new refrigerators and flat-screen televisions as they climb into the middle class, and a 9 percent shortfall in electricity at peak hours. Many houses and businesses have their own backup generators.
But the collapse of an entire grid is rare: the last such failure involving the northern grid occurred in 2001.