A Saga Of A Different Kind

Part 2

(Contd.)

Further, he was willing to cart it away for another fifty rupees.

‘Well, we have no immediate plans for a second toilet,’ as I saw it.

‘If it is fifty rupees for a flush tank, the commode should fetch much more,’ reasoned my mother.

The plumber’s response: ‘Amma, in fact I have no ready customer for it. It is for a possibility in future that I made this offer.’

‘I thought hundred and fifty rupees was fair. Since you’re an old-timer, let’s settle for hundred rupees.’

‘No, Amma – believe me, fifty is as far as I can go.’

‘Then, let me check with my kabadiwala (the guy who takes junk off your hand).’

‘So be it, Amma. Where should I leave it?’

‘Amma, let it go,’ gestured my wife from the plumber’s back.

‘Well, it can’t be left inside our house. Why don’t you leave it in the landing? The landing is not exclusive to them.’

The reference was to my next-door neighbor – the same guy whose servant averaged 50% in emptying the garbage into the bin. He had used the staircase landings between our floor and the terrace at the top to stack up odds and ends. None of us had raised an objection.

It was settled – things were a bit rearranged to make room for the commode.

So the day ended quite well with all loose ends tied up except for the commode. Now I didn’t have to fear a knock on the door. If he still did, it would be probably to borrow a stool or a can-opener…

The next notable event in this affair of the commode was when my next-door neighbor accosted me just as I was entering my flat in the evening, returning from work:

The exchange hereunder is a reasonably accurate translation of the original Hindi:

‘I say, you must do something about it.’

Now what? If his bedroom ceiling too leaked, I wasn’t going to feel responsible.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t get you.’

‘It’s about that thing up there…the toilet…’

‘Toilet up there? You did not attend the last (Building) Society’s meeting. The secretary informed us we still haven’t got the permission to build a servant’s toilet up there on the terrace. You’ll have to let your servant use your toilet for some more time. Can’t help it, though we’re pushing the matter at the ward-office. You know how things take their own time out there.’

‘Oh, no. I’m sure you’re doing all you can in that regard. I meant this white thing out there.’ His physical finger-pointing clarified the matter.

‘Oh, you mean the commode?’

‘Oh, yes, yes. That’s what I meant.’

‘What of it?’

‘You see, what I got there are my son’s tri-cycle, jump-bed and other toys, all parked up there. Bal still plays with them. And to find this thing along with the toys…I’m sure you understand…’

This was not the time to tick him off – he couldn’t be extending the walls of his flat generously to include the landings, inconveniencing those who trek up to the terrace and down.

‘It’s only for a day or two. Am trying to dispose it off.’

‘I’ve a thought if it is ok with you. I’ll get my servant to move it up to the terrace. It is the same thing whether it is here or it is on the terrace. Rains are gone, you know.’

’Ok, I’ve no issues with that.’

‘I’ll have it moved right away.’

My mother had an early dinner and she had gone to bed. We finished ours and were preparing to retire for the night.

I updated my wife on my exchange with our next-door neighbor and asked her about the kabadiwalla.

‘You know, your mom gave up on her customary afternoon nap, sat by the street-side window to call in the kabadiwalla. Normally he is here on his rounds just after the school children spill out on the street at the end of the morning shift. Today it was almost an hour later when she spotted him and called him in.’

‘What happened? Did he offer too low for Amma?’

‘It was worse. I had actually prepared Amma to let it go even for twenty rupees. But this guy – he refused to touch it…I mean he wouldn’t take it at any price. He says a guy who has a toilet has got it already and a guy who doesn’t have a toilet has no need for it.’

‘That’s a piece of perfectly specious logic if ever I heard one. Now, what next?’

‘Kaveri is under re-development. They pulled it down and cleared lorry-loads of debris – broken wood, bricks, tiles…May be we could ask the contractor if he could arrange to take it away.’

For your understanding, Kaveri was the building on our left, but not left anymore.

‘Let me check it out tomorrow. What did Amma say?’

‘Poor thing – she was disconsolate. To her, this was the ultimate marginalization of the common folks. Even a kabadiwala picks his choice. What do we get to choose? Sign of times to come. Amma wants no part of it anymore.’

On the following day, my next-door neighbor caught me at the entrance of our building again as I was returning from work in the evening.

‘Sorry, my friend, it didn’t work out as we thought.’

He had this confusing habit of using pronouns free of context.

‘What didn’t work out?’ I had not thought of any collaborative operation with him.

‘My servant had taken Bal to play hide-and-seek on the terrace. At one time Chotu (the servant who was by no means a chotu) couldn’t find him. He shouted for my wife – there was absolute panic until…’

‘My God, is the child safe?’

‘… Bal emerged from inside of the commode. My wife has already used up a bar of soap giving him the scrub and is not finished yet.’

‘Oh, sh..,’ the inappropriateness of my unfortunate ejaculation was lost on him.

‘So, what should we do now? ’ my neighbor was genuinely nonplussed.

The collective ownership of the sticky commode was quite encouraging. Now I was ready to face sticky whatever like a man. The wise had rightly observed that two heads are better than one. Together we would come up with ideas, I was sure of that. Though, the wise were often apt to be confusing by saying quite the opposite too like this thing about too many cooks. How else do you feed an army, for instance, may I ask? I’m digressing again.

‘What should we do now?’ he stayed focussed, a creditable trait.

‘Well, for one thing we must move it away from Bal’s play-area.’

‘You’re right,’ he brightened up.

‘A thought – we (read it as his servant) could move it to down and to the front beside the bin, a little inside of the main gate.’

‘Those were exactly my thoughts too.’

‘Two things could happen. The garbage collector may take it away when he empties the bin in the morning.’

‘Or else?’

‘As you know, we have been losing all kinds of things – like drainage covers, light fixtures, car wipers regularly to petty thieves. When we place it in plain sight near the main gate, it would be too much to resist for them. I expect to lose it within one night of our placing it there.’

‘Swell idea that one is.’

Does even a shred of a doubt still linger in your mind on the wisdom of putting two heads to work?

When I left for work next day morning, I passed by the commode well ensconced out in the open. Fast work! The night was when the action would kick in. With some luck it could even be during the day when our watchman was on his uninterruptible siesta.

Meanwhile, I – a cautious cancerian – following up on my wife’s suggestion, made it a point to check with the contractor working on Kaveri. Unfortunately, no dice there. It was a composite contract to pull down the existing structure and clear the debris as well. The contractor had completed the job, collected his dues and was gone. He could be called back if we had plans to pull down our building too.

The night came and went without any further (commode related) developments. In the morning, as I made for work, I noticed with consternation that the stubborn commode sat there unmoved. In fact it served as a nice perch for the stray dogs to climb up and reach out to the garbage bin and sift the contents for pickings. It also doubled up as a pole for the dog to satisfy its urges. Very soon it might even be a cozy home to a litter of puppies, I was afraid.

In the evening when the next-door neighbor and I were in the building lobby contemplating on the next course of action, the secretary (of the Society) joined us. Nice chap, he was all politeness. A commode sitting near the main gate was not a very inviting sight, it being no object of art, he pointed out, besides testing the parking and unparking skills of the members. I refrained from remarking how ‘Fountain’ 1917, a signed urinal by Marcel Duchamp became one of the most important piece of the Dada movement (a precursor to Surrealism), raising numerous questions of what art is and could be, and completely changed opinions of how art is perceived today. Since exhibiting Dada’ic objects was not part of the Society’s agenda, we readily agreed with him and assured him of a solution at the earliest.

At this point, after the secretary had departed, my neighbor came up with a suggestion that took away my breath for a moment:

‘Hey, why don’t we plant a purse of money visibly to the commode as a lure or a token of gratitude? That might buy us some action from the thieves.’

I hated throwing water on his maiden attempt of exercising his gray cells: ‘Won’t the purse be taken leaving the commode behind? We can’t weld the purse to it, you’ll appreciate.’

On the following day, I positioned myself early in the morning to catch up with the garbage collector on his morning rounds:

‘Why are you not picking up this one with the rest of the garbage? It has been left here as a discard. No one will stop you.’

Saheb, please don’t think for a moment we’re not doing our job. But as per our terms of outsourcing contract with BMC, we don’t pick up commodes.’

‘But we need it to be taken away. See, it would soon become a play-pen for the dogs. And then Friends-Of-Animals may step in and stay its dismantling.’

‘We can do it as a special case for a charge, Saheb. Just for you, I would be bending our rules understanding your predicament.’

A man of the world, I could smell the scam from a mile (kilometer?) even if it came with a garbage truck: ‘So what would it be?’

‘Two hundred rupees.’

After the customary rounds of haggling, I inked the deal right there. The cargo was transferred and money paid. Was there a twinge of sadness at the travails of an unwanted that lived beyond its purpose?

Well, I was a much relieved man in more sense than one – of the tension, the money and the commode. I would make sure the plumber and my mother remain in the dark on the financial angle.

Now I could look straight into the eyes of anyone in the neighborhood.

Just as the garbage truck pulled out, my neighbor came out in a great hurry: ‘Say, I thought of this – don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. All we had to do was to get my servant to hammer it down to a dozen smaller pieces and have them taken away over three or four days as part of the regular garbage. No one would be wiser.’

‘Great idea, my friend, though a bit late in the day. Let us file it away for a future occasion.’

I returned home to ready myself for work. When I shared the details in private with my wife, she said, ‘If I were you and pushed to the commode..er..the wall, I would have simply called our dear old plumber back and held him to his offer, even sweeten it a bit more for him.’

End

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