(Positively the last post – at least for today – about the perils of domestic living. This is a version of my latest column for Metro Now.)
A few days before we moved into our new flat, I got a call from one of the builder’s henchmen, informing me that all the electricity meters for the building had exploded without warning or apparent reason. A fire engine had had to be summoned late at night and people had gathered outside the house throwing handfuls of sand at the conflagration, like they did in ancient tribal societies. “It was very exciting, you should have been there,” a neighbour told us later, seemingly unperturbed by the idea that if we had been staying there at the time, my car would have been parked right next to the section of the wall that hosted the erupting items.
Anyway, with the alacrity one doesn’t normally associate with the electricity board, a call came from a BSES spokesman saying would I please deposit a large amount of money towards getting a new meter installed. It had to be cash. “The reason for this,” said the unctuous spokesman, “is that if we give the cash deposit immediately, your new meter will come within a couple of days. Otherwise, heh heh, you know how these things work, it could even take 2-3 weeks.”
So I ran, panting, to the nearest ATM, and four weeks later our new meter arrived. By this time, of course, my wife and I were well-ensconced in the new flat. I hesitate to use the word “comfortably” because we had spent at least three nights in mortal terror. Walking upstairs one evening, we noticed a sinister glow emanating from the temporary-connection wires coiled together in the charred meter box; the wire began sparking as if on cue whenever one of us went closer. The builder’s electrician let out an Amrish Puri laugh when we phoned him: “Avoid using the air-conditioner, the fridge or anything else and it will most probably be all right.” The next day he showed up with a large grin and a shiny red thing tucked under his arm. “Here, have a fire extinguisher,” he said, “Very effective for big electric fires. That will be Rs 3,000 only. Cash please.”
“O ho, don’t worry so much,” chuckled a grandmother when we related our woes, “These are mere teething troubles. Such things happen in every new house. Ten years from now you will have such fun looking back and discussing all the problems you had when you first moved in.” Does that mean it will take 10 years for the house to become livable, I was about to ask, but a look from the wife silenced me.
Meanwhile the sparking continued until we called in a private electrician who discovered that the builder’s men had omitted to use basic thimbles in the temporary wiring. Effectively, this made the house a modern-day equivalent of the palace of lac constructed by Duryodhana for his hated cousins, the Pandavas. More money quickly flew out of our pockets as we got the thimbling done ourselves. The local ATM booth was now considering hiring musicians to develop a special welcome tune just for me.
The next afternoon, we asked a plumber to investigate a possible air vacuum in our water-pump. After poking and prodding about for a while, he informed us conversationally that the water meters for all three flats in the building had been stolen – from a sturdy, locked container. Why would anyone go to such trouble for an old water meter, we wondered. “There are all kinds of people in this world, sir,” he replied mysteriously. Then he took lots of money from us and went away, and we never saw him again.
“Like I said, teething problems,” the grandmother said. “This is only the beginning. I am sure things will get much worse before they get better.” The old have always been insanely jealous of the young, I reflected. They resent the greater freedoms of our time and the fact that we have the Internet on which to vent our frustrations, whereas they had nothing.