In recent months, almost each time I’ve stepped out of the house, the first thing I’ve seen is the neighbours' young boy perched on the elevated platform where our building’s water tanks are kept. He looks intently into each tank by turn, plays with the lids, knocks on the pipes for a while, and then repeats the process. This is the only context in which I’ve ever seen this boy; for all I know, he lives up there and they send him his meals in a basket.
I used to be indifferent to this sight, except for small patches of annoyance (the species takes so much time to evolve to the point where it’s walking about on level ground, and then these dissidents come along and spoil everything?) – but now, in a macabre reversal of fortunes, I have become a version of this very boy. Roughly 30 per cent of my married life has been spent climbing up ladders and peering forlornly into the muddy depths of the water tank that services our new flat. (When people ask me the inevitable and meaningless question “So, how does it feel to be married?”, the only answer I can think to give them is “The view from the terrace is very nice.”)
Muddy water blues; or, My Life in Water Tanks
When I check the tank on a good day, there’s a trickle of only-slightly-muddy water filling the inside at a negligible rate (given that the water supply in the main line lasts only around an hour) – but at least the sight of the muddy trickle makes one feel like life has meaning. On the bad days I gaze into the tank for several minutes, espy no trickle but shrug my shoulders stoically and say, “Oh well, no dead crows this time. One mustn’t expect too much.”
[Note: that old fable about the crow raising the water level in a pitcher by dropping stones into it? All lies. In reality, the dumb things just dive straight in and drown noisily.]
So one good thing about marriage is that it has belatedly heightened my awareness of water tanks. I realise now that I have been unpardonably neglectful of these huge black plastic things, considering this is a city where you can’t cast your gaze sky-wards without seeing dozens of them everywhere. Having not thought about water tanks at all for most of my life, I now regularly have nightmares where they gather around and tap-dance, like the penguins in Happy Feet, and then bend forward and tip their lids to show me that they are all empty. Each time I pass a tank on the road I stop and examine it respectfully, even perambulate it a couple of times.
– Ditto heightened awareness about electricity meters, wires and “thumbles” (which apparently is the same as “thimble”, a word I had previously encountered only in Enid Blyton stories where sweet old ladies in armchairs use these things while knitting sweaters for their grandchildren).
How the Rinch Stole our Water Supply
– Something else I’ve learnt in these initial days of grihastha ashram: electricians and plumbers go on their assignments without ever thinking to carry tool-bags or basic equipment. It regularly happens that an electrician comes to the house, plays around with switches and wires, a faraway look on his face, and then turns to us and asks: “Aapke paas 5 metre ka wire hai kya?” And this after we’ve explained the specific problem to him over the phone, carefully covering all possibilities, and asked him to bring along anything he might need.
When it’s the plumber, “5 metre ka wire” can be substituted by “rinch”, which is either a corruption of “wrench” or a new word altogether. By all accounts this is the first thing any self-respecting plumber would need when he’s checking a water-pump for air vacuums, but you think there’s a chance he would actually have one in his tool-kit? Oh no. Instead he looks at you balefully when you confess that you have no idea what a “rinch” even is. It’s like the doctor tapping his patient on the head with a scalpel during a bypass surgery, asking “Would you have a spare pacemaker I could use?” and then, on receiving No for an answer, growling “What use are you?”
– Plumbers and electricians usually have fixed scowls on their faces, but they smile with boundless merriment during times of adversity – your adversity, that is. I’ve lost count of the number of times a grinning face has informed me that a) someone has stolen our water meters, b) someone has tried to steal our water tank but it was too heavy so they’ve simply damaged it instead, c) the sparking in our electricity wires means that the air-conditioner can’t be switched on for more than an hour, otherwise the building will implode, d) the people living on the top floor are cannibalistic chainsaw-wielders, e) our block gets fresh water supply only between 3-4 in the afternoon and 3-4 in the morning, “but sometimes it doesn’t come in the afternoon”. All this lends credence to my theory that true happiness can only be attained through the misery of others.
[Coming up: why it’s bad news when a builder calls and insists that you collect the fire extinguisher from his office before moving into your new flat for the first time]