A Housing Society Meets To Solve A Problem

A Housing Society in Mumbai is an association of all the flat (apartment) owners in a building (an apartment complex). A microcosm of the society at large, the members are more diverse than the countries in UN in their social strata, financial standing, political allegiance, religious beliefs, academic and profession background and cultural norms. They meet often usually to discuss day-to-day issues, maintenance and amenities. The drama in meetings ranges from silly pettiness to open hostility occasionally and at other times, from joyful camaraderie to exemplary cooperation too. This piece is a ring-side view of a meeting held in a Society to address a problem by no means uncommon.

Here we go:

The Lord of the top floor sailed in, a full twenty minutes after the meeting had commenced as was his wont. He had missed the customary masala tea and biscuits.

‘It’s the tea that makes him come in after it’s over, I suspect,’ Quick-Gun quipped.

The host, the Secretary of the society, retorted, his repartee was not heard in the clamor of laughter.

The quorum was not surprising given the gravity of the incidents. Missing were the Astrologer called out on an unforeseen emergency and the Army out on a vacation. The last time they had assembled in such numbers was over the unsavory episode involving a maid-servant of one of the flat-owners.

The Secretary called the meeting to order and briefed the audience on the why they were dragged in kicking and screaming from their Sunday repast. It was about the CFL lamps – the new fangled energy efficient lamps – used to light up the lobby and passage areas in the building. They were pricey at over hundred rupees a piece. But they had a longer life, consumed a lot less energy and carried a no-questions-asked warranty for six months. The warranty in the accepted sense meant returning or at least producing the defective piece before the manufacturer or his agent. It did not cover the eventuality of the bulbs physically removing themselves completely without a trace as it seemed in this instance – no less than eight over the last couple of months.

The Lord roared, ‘Are we here on a Sunday morning away from tennis to discuss a measly matter of a few hundred rupees?’

As Grouchy mumbled inaudibly, it was Quick-Gun firing away: ‘That is settled. Now we know who to go to for a new one whenever a bulb goes missing. He wouldn’t mind – he said as much. We’re done, let us close the meeting, Secretary’

A round of snickering. The Lord glowered at him and sat down.

The Vexed brought the proceedings back on track with his ever-green: ‘What do we do now?’

The weary Secretary repeated himself: ‘That’s what we’re here for to discuss and agree on a course of action.’

The retired Paranoid thought about it loudly: ‘While eight hundred plus rupees does not seriously dent the society’s finances, I agree, who is to say this is not the beginning of an alarming and unnatural trend of objects leaving their station without the consent of the owners?’

They went silent for a few moments sorting out in their heads the purport of what he said last.

After a pause, he continued,’ I say we call in the police. Bad habits must be nipped in the bud.’

The Vexed ventured again: ‘For the love of me, what would anyone do with a bulb that’s in use and not new?’

Quick-Gun added helpfully: ‘Not a collector’s item for sure.’

The Secretary was in the know: ‘There’s a flourishing gray market for all used stuff from a cola can to a cruiser ship. It’s clear as day there’re buyers for these bulbs.’

‘It’s all the signs of bad times we’re in and worse to come. If it’s an act of man, Karma will surely get whoever is behind this.’ This was the Priest on the ground floor shaking his head somberly.

IT (Intelligent, nay, Information Technology) knew the way forward: ‘Assuming it’s not an insider job, I’ve compiled a list of outsiders – our suspects – who come into the building at different times. A long list, it is, you would be surprised to learn.’

Quick-Gun broke in, winking at the Priest: ’Of course not including amaanushyaa’s (immaterial visitors) if any.’

The Intelligent jumped in cutting short the levity: ‘Let me help you prune the list. We could scratch out the milk vendors (distributing milk pouches), paperwalla’s (news-paper boys) and phoolwaali’s (bringing flowers). They come in at hours when the lights are still on. It is reasonable to assume the theft took place when the lights were off for it to be not noticed until much later.’

‘That’s very clever deduction,’ the pat came from quarters least expected, the Grouchy.

The Paranoid persisted with: ‘I don’t understand where this is heading. I still think we should call the Police,’

‘Young man, you may continue,’ the Lord ordered, ignoring a disapproving glance from the Paranoid.

An encouraged Intelligent continued: ‘We could also eliminate the irregulars who come in only in certain weeks of the month like cablewala’s (collecting monthly fees for the cable TV), the gas meterwala (the utility man reading monthly domestic consumption of piped gas). These guys make their rounds in the first week of the month while we have lost the lights in the other weeks too. The same goes for the occasional repairman called in.

’You still have someone on your list?’ Quick-Gun, again.

‘We still have the presswala’s (for ironing clothes), the bhajiwala’s (selling vegetables), the domestic-helps and the couriers.’

The Secretary made a point: ‘We know these guys over several years. Never did we lose anything. On the other hand, on number of occasions, we found on our premises unexplained and unattached objects like the forlorn and forsaken commode if you all remember. ’ Alliteration was his soft spot.

The Paranoid was not to be distracted by migrating commodes: ‘Don’t forget there’s always the first time for anything. Newspapers are full of them – stories of thefts involving domestic-helps. The couriers are worse – they send a new guy almost every day with unverified credentials, I’m sure.’

Quick-Gun cautioned: ‘Better not be heard outside this room. Else we’ll have a morcha (protest) outside our building from the ‘unfairly maligned’.’

IT had an easy solution: ‘Let’s use magnetic cards. We use them in our offices…and it works.’

Counter from Grouchy: ‘In my cousin’s place on the Twelfth Road, I heard, some prankster drove a nail into the reader and no one could swipe a card thereafter. That was the end of it.’

IT had thought this through: ‘Oh, our watchman would keep an eye against such abuse.’

Grouchy observed: ‘So we have the card-reader, the cards and also the watchmen?’

‘What’s odd about it? It’s India, my friend. Don’t the banks have manned ATM’s? Of course, if we wish, we could have surveillance cameras to look out for the pranksters.’

‘What happens when the courier boys walk away from their job with the card on them? It was the Paranoid this time. ‘You know, they just disappear without a by-your-leave?’

‘We could always invalidate the card.’

The tennis-deprived Lord: ‘Secretary, what’s going on here? We were talking about a few missing bulbs. Next thing would be guard dogs and an electric fence?’

The Secretary answered the call of duty: ‘Hey folks, he’s right. Let us get back to the missing bulbs. We have no plans to spend thousands on a security system when we have engaged round-the-clock watchmen.’

The Vexed showed stress: ‘Another thought came to me just now – these bulbs are mounted at least 8 feet above the ground.’

IT helpfully added: ‘That would be one foot down from the ceiling.’

The Lord was for immediate action: ‘Call the watchman and ask him if he saw any six-footer coming in.’

The Vexed: ‘How can a six-footer reach out to unscrew a bulb eight feet up?’

The Lord: ‘Why? Of course, with his hands stretched up.’

IT backed him up: ‘If it helps, the average long sleeve of a shirt is 32/33 inches.’

Quick-Gun offered a simple solution: ‘We could erect a height barrier right at the entrance to stop the six-footer in his track, just the way they place them in bridge approaches, parking lots…’

His suggestion was roundly ignored by all.

Whereupon the vertically challenged day-watchman was called and asked. Certainly not, not under his nose – he was clear no tall guy had entered the building in recent times.

A rebuffed Quick-Gun was not the one to stay out for long: ’He must be speaking the truth. His neck shows no sprain.’

Watching the proceedings, the Intelligent jumped in: ‘Or, it could be anyone standing on a chair, stool or a step-ladder.’

The watchman further affirmed no chair, stool or step-ladder went in, accompanied or otherwise.

The Vexed correctly assessed the situation: ‘Seems to me a dead-end.’

Grouchy joined: ‘We’re wasting our time.’

I-told-you-so from the Paranoid: ‘Get the Police to crack it – that’s what we should be doing, I’m clear in my mind.’

The Priest was wistful about the Astrologer: ’We miss him – I’m sure we wouldn’t be so much in the dark on the bulbs going out if he was around.’

Quick-Gun’s irreverent inquiry was not very audible: ‘Does he glow in the dark?’

The Lord decreed: ’Secretary, let’s conclude.’

The Secretary stood up: ‘Well, thanks for being here on this Sunday morning. We’re still clueless how we’re losing these bulbs. I am not sure the Police would be really interested in a case like this when their hands are full with more serious crimes. I suggest we do two things to help ourselves: Firstly, we keep our eyes open for suspicious strangers, especially the tall ones. Next, we instruct both the day-watchman and the night-watchman to keep a closer tab on the couriers and others too. We hold them responsible for any loss and recover the cost of replacement from their salary. We’ll review the situation in a week’s time.’

‘I’ll go for with you,’ endorsed the Lord. His suggestion was to send the Army on his return to deal with the Police if it got worse.

The meeting ended.

In the evening:

He came in massaging his shoulder with his hand.

‘You’re late. What happened?’

‘What happened, eh? You’ll break all my bones if you haven’t already. All day long, couldn’t lift my hands, you motu (heavy). Let me tell you, the act is off for some time now.’

‘Some time? It’s over, finis, my friend. It has to be something else from now.’

‘How do you mean?’

He learnt about the day’s meeting. Now it would all come back to bite them in their purse – no payoff. Well, a pause it may be, certainly not the end, he thought. In a way he felt relieved – no more juggling with the motu standing on his shoulders, as he went about taking charge of the night watch from his day mate.

Source: Grateful thanks to facs.phillipmartin.info, barriersdirect co uk and openclipart.org for the pictures.


6 Responses to A Housing Society Meets To Solve A Problem

  1. I so love your stories! The anticipation that grows as I read to finally read the solution or explanation at the end. Wonderful! Plus, the difference in culture compared to the US is so fascinating. There is no way an apartment of tenants here would gather for a meeting – especially all of them unless they’re gone. Plus all the types of delivery. So fascinating! I have always wanted to visit India.

    Thanks so much for the story!


  2. tskraghu says:

    Thank you for your patient reading (undeterred by the Mumbai lingo at places) and the encouraging comments.

    Yes, there is a lot of door-step service and banter. There is more that I did not pull in. The people and the interactions are a rich material to write.

    Hope you’re able to make it here anytime soon. . .


  3. S R Kannan says:

    Have been waiting for your own creation for some time. As usual, I was impatient to go through not because of drab writing but in anticipation of a twist at the end. The snide comment on Technology solutions was great. Keep them coming.


  4. Harishri says:

    Good one Raghu mama!


    • tskraghu says:

      I wasn’t sure it would be liked though I enjoyed writing it. And more so by a youngster like you! Tks.


  5. Sharmishtha says:

    hilarious one Raghu, will have to read it again 🙂


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