Vantage point

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Me Ani Mazha Shatrupaksha by P.L. "PuLa" Deshpande

Mi Ani Mazha Shatrupaksha...translates as "Me and My Enemies". It is a hilarious essay which will strike anyone, regardless of their background, as relevant. Because the enemies described in this essay are universal, crossing the barriers of language, religion and nationality. Read on and you will know why.

Here I have translated just the part about the house tour. The essay also speaks about hunters who boast about their kills. And people who go to exotic locations for a holiday and insist on boring you to death by making you look at all the pictures.

I have a few sworn enemies. Hunters who torment you with detailed accounts of how they killed a tiger in some remote Hittargi or Fittargi jungles. Or then people who have just built a new house, or are in the process of building a house, and who torture you by taking you on a "house tour".

This incident took place recently.

City - Pune
Time - A scorching afternoon in May

I was passing by a house under construction when someone called out my name.

"Oh wow, wow, wow, what a rare honour", said a man covered from head to toe in cement, lime, paint and other construction material. Flashing a smile which gave the impression of him having 64 teeth instead of 32, and jumping over the iron rods like a male rabbit running after a female rabbit, he approached me.

I didn't recognize him initially, because his identity was deftly concealed by by various amorphous ingredients. A few seconds later I placed him. I know a few hundred people by the name 'Kulkarni' and he was one of those Kulkarnis.

"Oh Hello, what are you doing here?", I asked attempting some small talk.

"What am I doing here? You mean you don't know??" he asked with amazement overflowing from his voice.

"Don't know what?"

"I'm building a house!!" Kulkarni said. Initially I had him pegged as contractor of some sort.


"What do you mean really? You mean you haven't heard about it? That's strange." he said.

Now why on earth should I know that Kulkarni is building a house? But most people who are building or buying a house are of the firm opinion that it is a matter of national importance which everyone has to be aware of.

"Didn't Vashya Joshi tel you?" he further queried.

"Yes, yes, he did, I think he did. I must have forgotten". Now this is not lying. This is a universal method to avoid as much awkwardness in life as possible.

"Come on, I'll give you a tour" he grabbed hold of me.

"Actually you know Kulkarni, I am looking for an address. This Doctor Khurmandikar..." I tried to escape.

"Ya ya, the doctor is not running away anywhere. Come on."

Resistance is completely useless you are trapped in the "house tour" vortex. So Kulkarni started dragging me across a plank placed over a gutter.

Now if a butcher told a lamb "I am shortly going to run a knife through your throat", then the enthusiasm with which the lamb would follow the butcher, approximates the enthusiasm with which I was following Kulkarni.

Now here I am compelled to make a clarification. If somebody is building a house... even if it is the Taj Mahal, i do not feel any envy, jealousy, resentment towards them provided they don't insist on dragging me on a tour of the house.

So I gingerly negotiated that plank and followed Kulkarni past the heaps of bricks, rubble, iron rods and other stuff. During the whole time Kulkarni kept his commentary going non-stop, without letting me utter anything more than "Ok" "Is it?" "Oh ok" or something similar.

"Wait, let me show you the plan first" Kulkarni said and unrolled a big blueprint in front of me. Now blueprints are completely greek to me. Except for the name of the engineer who has drawn up the plan, I can't make head or tail out of anything.

Kulkarni however was looking at the blueprint with an eagerness usually reserved only for smut mag centrefolds.

"OK, so now do you get it? This is north. And this is south. And this is east..."

"Oh yes, right, facing east", I uttered some nonsense just for the sake of saying something. Facing east... what the hell is facing east?

"..yes, and this is West. So you see, the house is aligned in the Northern direction"

At that moment my leg was experiencing an overwhelming urge to express itself on Kulkarni's southern end.

I didn't pay any attention to the first twenty or so statements of Kulkarni. Then I heard him say.

"See, this is the drawing room. It's 20 by 24."

"That's great!" If Kulkarni had told me it was 0.5 by 1.5 I would still have said that's great. I felt like catching hold of one of the workers on the site and asking him if he knew how to bury a live man in a wall.

"Yes, I have made it very spacious. It's dining-cum-drawing." I had no intentions of ever coming to Kulkarni's place for dining or for drawing.

"Now look at the trick I have played here." It was news to me that people play tricks even while building houses.

Now all of a sudden, I looked at the plan with the confidence of someone whose last ten generations were architects.

"But Kulkarni, tell me, where is the entrance for this drawing room?"

Now actually I had no interest whatsoever in how Kulkarni, his Kulkarness, or the tiny Kulkarnlets entered the drawing room. But I have this extremely effective technique to cope up with irritation. If something is irritating you, act as if it is happening for your benefit and take unnecessary interest in it. So if your neighbour is playing music a little too loud, tell yourself he is playing it for you, and try to sing along. Try it, it's very effective in handling irritation.

"Hang on. Let's go step by step. Now I have kept a reception room outside the drawing room. That way anyone should not be able to walk directly into the drawing room. Right?"

"Yes yes, so many people walk in." again, an unnecessary addition from my side. So many people walk in? What was that supposed to mean?

"This is where all the shoes will be kept."

"Where?" I looked for a place on the blueprint to keep my shoes.

Now the blueprint kept shrinking into a roll every few minutes. We had to straighten it out every few minutes. These blueprints are just like a dog's tail. No matter what you do, you can't straighten them out. So Kulkarni held two corners and I held two corners. Sweating under the hot May afternoon sun. Mud, lime, cement, paint ruining our clothes. Why me? Why me?

"OK, now look at this door which leads towards the sitting-cum-bed-room. That's the dining-cum-drawing hall. And this is the study-cum-guest-room." After a while Kulkarni started looking to me like a human-cum-satan.

"Now look at this. This is the staircase to go up..."

Oh god! It's got two floors! More pain! Kulkarni will eat up another hour ravenously.

"Upstairs, there's a terrace." he said

"Oh terrace? Good. Good for hanging clothes to dry." That's all someone like me can think of when it comes to a terrace.

"I am planning to have a terrace garden here." Kulkarni chirped.

Now whether Kulkarni used the terrace to build a garden, or to jump to his own death, I had no interest in it. But Kulkarni was holding forth. For the next hour or so he made me pore over the plan in more detail than I would have ever dreamed possible.

"Now this is the kitchen. It will have all facilities. Lots of burners, lots of closets, lots of cabinets. And look at the trick I have played here." I looked at the spot he had put his finger on to learn about the trick.

"See if you put the used dishes here, they will slide to the sink outside for the maid to wash. Automatic!"

"Wow, what a trick!" Now actually I had said this sarcastically. But kulkarni was way past recognizing sarcasm.

These tricks or innovative facilities is a major obsession with people building their new houses, especially when they are telling unsuspecting souls about them. Closets in the wall. A bed which hides in the wall. A couch which turns into a bed. A bed which turns into a table. A table which turns into a chair. Dining-table-cum-bed. A wall of windows. windows with foldable panes. Folding kitchen. Lamp-cum-flower-pot..... oh god!

If someone opens the main gate, a bell goes off inside. If someone doesn't close the gate, it goes off again. The things these people are obsessed with!

This one guy I know had gone completely overboard. He was telling me about how if someone is at the door, it doesn't ring a bell, but lgihts a bulb somewhere in the house. Then some concealed mirror shows you who is at the door. If it is someone unwanted, you press another button. Then an automatic mechanical dog comes out of somewhere and snaps at the visitor's trousers. He was telling me all this with barely concealed glee. He said he had even planned to arrange for an automatic rock to fall on the visitor's head. But in case the visitor moved, then the rock would hit the floor and ruin the tiles, so he didn't put that facility in.

"Visit me some time. I'll show you how much fun it is." he said with a twinkle in his eye. Obviously, i didn't visit him. But once a man visited me to collect donations for a public satyanarayan pooja. I gave him the address and told him he was assured of a big donation from there.

Anyway, back to Kulkarni. After wasting an eternity on the plan, he dragged me towards the construction.

"Come, I'll show you the work that's been done" he dragged me over another plank. As I was crossing the plank, the foot of my trouser got stuck in an iron rod and tore open.

"Oh no. Your trouser's torn? Tch tch. You know what I do is, I always wear shorts when I come here?" Kulkarni said. Oh great. So in case I might get ensnared by a predatory house owner, I should walk around town wearing shorts all the time? I stepped through the site carefully. Kulkarni however was frolicking around like an excerpt.

"Careful, the ceiling is being plastered here.." just as he said that, a glob of plaster fell on my blue coat creating an impromptu Rorschach test.

"Oh, don't mind that. It'll wash off easily" Kulkarni's thick skin would give Assamese rhinos a complex.

"Now look at this. This is the servants' toilet." The price I had to pay to look at Kulkarni's servants' toilet, was the hefty drycleaning bill for my coat.

"The servants' toilet is Indian style. All other toilets have commodes." Kulkarni was narrating all this with a bizarre kind of joy. Why should I have to know which the Kulkarni household and their help use to ceanse their bowels?

House owners will bore you not just with the facilities. They will also unload on you tales of how they managed to procure all the raw material like cement, bricks and stones. And they will keep quizzing you like you are some expert. This one house owner I know seemed to be under the impression that I am a qualified carpenter, mason, and plumber.

"Now these stones... look at these stones... guess where I got them from?"

How should I know where he got the stones? To end the discussion soon I said,

"From the stone market?" I hoped my sarcastic answer would give him a hint. But people who are building a house, maybe because of the cement that they are around all the time, become impenetrable to anything.

"Haha, no. I got these stones from a special quarry twenty miles away. These stones are so much better. Now look at this ordinary stone which you will get from a contractor. And look at my stone."

He made me hold both the heavy samples in my hand. And for the next two hours, he made me take the tour with the two stones in my hand, the ordinary stone in my left and his special stone in my right, until my mind was numbed with boredom.

That day I learnt first-hand why being mind-numbingly dazed is called "being stoned".