By: Ganesh Saili
It was going to happen sooner or later, and soon after the pandemic hit us, second homes became places to shelter from the rampaging scourge. All the houses in this hill station were bursting at the seams, often with interesting results as complete strangers had to chit-chat when they bumped into each other.
‘Who’s that guy jogging around? I said hello to him but he kept staring straight ahead.’ A friend complains.
‘Oh he mustn’t have heard you!’ I try to pour oil on troubled waters.
‘I guess he’s visually challenged too! Last time I waved to him but still got no response!’
Then there is Sanjay. He was out for a walk at dusk accompanied by his sister and a friend. Rounding a corner they ran into an old lady resting on a parapet with three yapping dogs.
‘Who are you?’ she asked him.
‘I’m Sanjay!’ he said. ‘I live here.’
‘Ah! I’ve been meaning to meet you!’ she said. He stopped. The snarling dogs, straining at the leash bared their teeth to lunge at him. Regardless, she continued. ‘I have been meaning to talk to you. But the other day a bhoot (ghost) went into my head and refuses to leave,’ she said, with her hair standing on end.
‘I still get goose bumps,’ recalls Sanjay. ‘My fellow walkers had vamoosed. I mumbled see-you-later-alligator and bolted.’
On the cusp of the second wave came a bushelful of requests from friends seeking a quiet place to stay here.
‘Anything Ganesh .. preferably with a small patch of lawn!’ they ask.
‘Join the queue!’ I feel like saying. But I try not to be unkind. I reassure them that the early bird gets the worm. Though I often wonder: what was that poor worm doing out so early in the first place?
Of course there are those who do manage to find the perfect spot. Never mind that it looks run-down; never mind if the roof has caved in and never mind if the garden is more weed than flowers. Once the paperwork is done, work begins and it’s like wrestling with a pig – both get dirty and the trouble is, the pig likes it.
For instance, when Lakshmi moved into her cottage, she felt all that was needed was fixing a few broken windowpanes, removing a WC that the last owner had most thoughtfully planted in the middle of the back verandah, and giving the place a lick of paint.
A summer storm full of thunder, lightning and rain made her very nervous. She came unpleasantly alive to the fact that her house was extremely liable to be struck. A lightning conductor was desperately needed.
Helpfully, I introduced her to a local ‘know-it-all’ who had ‘seen-it-all’.
‘No problem,’ he said. ‘Just fixed one in the house near the cemetery!’
A pit was dug to be duly filled with charcoal, salt and copper-sulphate. Together they actually looked quite pretty and the lady was pleased. That is until she discovered a fellow painting a cast-iron manhole cover with copper paint.
‘Yeh kya hai?’ (What’s this?) she asked.
He muttered a few guttural words that sounded like curses (and probably were!).
‘Madamji! Sasta padta hai! (It’s cheaper!) Aur bijli gireygi toh kya farak hai loha hai ki tamba! (When lightning strikes what difference does it make if its iron or copper?)
Nearby, Little Jack Horner was wrestling with another thekedar (contractor) who was a complete greenhorn. Of course he was ‘world famous’ (so he said) for fixing electricals. The wires were laid out carefully, the light switches were straight and the geysers, mounted perfectly. You could say it was a job well done.
However, he had got his switches upside down: ‘On’ was ‘Off’ and ‘Off’ meant ‘On’.
‘Kya farak padta hai? Chalta toh hai!’ (What difference does it make? Works, doesn’t it?)
Switches refitted, the bill was paid and he left. Jack Horner went into the shower, switched on the geyser and the gate lights came on. He went to the gate and pressed the doorbell – the geyser came to life, although briefly.
Who said someday the chickens would come home to roost?
(Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills
belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books;some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition worldwide.)