My house looks unnaturally clean and dust free. Well, as clean and dust free as a ground floor flat in Mumbai can possibly look like. The bright and newly painted walls enhance the clean and airy look of the house, as does the freshly polished, gleaming furniture. As I survey the house, I can’t believe how calm and quiet it is. This calm and quiet is not indicative of a storm to come, but of a storm that has passed. A storm called “repair and paint the house” ! And a storm that I have just about survived.
It all began with the realisation that I had ignored my house for 5 years. Mumbai’s humidity and monsoon had taken its toll and something needed to be done. That something included some minor repairs, electrical work, polishing the furniture and, of course, painting. So the contractor was contacted, an estimate of the cost involved (gulp !) taken from him, the final cost haggled over and agreed upon, a work schedule drawn out… and we were good to go. Or so I thought.
Work began on October 1st and from then onwards it was a roller coaster ride of small and big hurdles that would that would test my patience, and sometimes my sanity too. At the end of each day, I would breathe a sigh of relief and say “Ok, I’ve survived, and tomorrow is another day.” Each day brought up something new—some funny, and some not so funny. So, while I am certainly not going to recount every little thing that sent my blood pressure soaring, let me share with you some of the more memorable ones, and the ones that make me say, “I am a survivor”.
That very first evening, as I reviewed the day’s work with the contractor, he casually told me, “I’m going to my village for Durga Puja.” At the look of horror on my face, he hastened to add, “Tension nahi lene ka, Madam. I’ll complete the work before I go. I’m leaving on the 18th, the work will get over by the 12th.” To say I didn’t believe him is a bit of an understatement. As things came to pass, the work did not get over before he left, but… I survived.
Then there were those arguments I had with Amma (my mother) over giving away the stuff stored in our lofts since forever. But Amma was having none of it and decimated every argument/plea/threat of mine with just one statement:
You can do what you want with this stuff after I am dead and gone.
When I complained about this to my 18-year-old niece, instead of sympathising with me, she supported my mother ! Not only that, she laid claim to an ugly wooden cabinet that has been in our family since 1935, and has never been used either. I survived the ignominy of my mother supervising me as I got the workers to remove, clean and put the stuff back into the painted loft. She probably though that I would sneak some stuff into the trash bags!
While clearing out some shelves I came across pencil cases and pouches filled with pens, pencils, marker pens, highlighters, erasers, sharpeners… I was horrified. I admit that I love stationery, but I am not a hoarder by any standard and could not recall when I had purchased most of them. Not surprisingly, many of the pens and highlighters were not functioning and I had to throw away most of them. The photograph below is what was left at the end of the cleaning exercise.
Before the wiring, the electrician very solicitously took my opinion on electrical points and switches and fans and lights. He impressed me by making copious notes too. Silly me. I should have waited till he actually completed the job. So, we now have sockets which are operated with one switch in all the rooms, a switchboard that is hidden behind a bookshelf (which means I have to move it to access it!), an off-centre fan and a couple of crookedly aligned lights. And did I mention, that the electrician has also gone to his village for the puja holidays?
Though Amma rubbishes my claim, she has an OCD where cleanliness is concerned. And such an OCD is a disaster in a house that is undergoing repair and painting. She was never satisfied with the cleaning done by the workers, and after the day’s work would want to scrub clean all visible surfaces again. Since I couldn’t convince her to let go or be satisfied with a superficial cleaning and also didn’t want her to do it, I would end up doing the cleaning. This happened Every. Single. Day.
Sometime back, I saw this beautiful watercolour painting of roses made by a fellow blogger, Monishikha, and fell in love with it immediately. And having found that it was for sale, bought it too. Once it was framed, I knew that a simple white or off-white wall would not do it justice. On an impulse, while going through the paint catalogue, I chose a “Lime Grove” paint shade for that one wall in my bedroom where the paiting would be displayed. Of course, nobody warned me that “Lime Grove on the shade card” would turn out to be “pista ice-cream on the wall”. I almost changed the shade, but decided to retain it and I have survived this decision.
I wish I had the foresight to keep a camera handy when the polishwala saw my books. His expression was a mix of amazement and something else. He kept asking me if I had read all the books I had and why I wanted so many books. I took an entire afternoon to lovingly dust and shelve each book, and of course read some pages of the book in between the two processes as well. The look of disapproval and something else on his face as I did it — I survived that too.
For some reason, my MTNL Broadband connection, which had never given me any trouble in the 3 years that I have used their service, decided to act up. Just a week before the work began, the connection died. And then began the story of the broadband guys blaming the linesmen blaming the broadband guys blaming the … You get the point ? So for the last month or so, I have been having intermittent Internet connection, which has meant that I could not read my favourite blog or conduct The Sunday Book Club without some amount of drama or even blog. My suggestion that there might be something wrong with the modem was met with incredulous disbelief by the MTNL guys. But I think l might be on the right track. Yesterday, after hours of struggling with the connection, I gave the modem one mighty thwack. And you know what, it started working. And both the modem and I have survived.
But more than anything else, I survived increasingly insistent and clamourous thoughts of selling my house and taking sanyaas. I thought about sanyaas when I had to make yet another round of tea. I thought of sanyaas when the PoP and paint dust and the smell of primer threatened to overwhelm. I thought of sanyaas after my mother refused to part with our oversized dining table and replace it with a smaller one for the nth time. I must clarify that my idea of taking sanyaas is not heading for the Himalayas or the nearest forest, but to run away to London and lead a bohemian life.
It has been a week since the work got over. The light fixtures have been fitted, my old and new favourite artworks are up on the walls, my precious books have been shelved, and that oversized dining table is still there as is all the stuff in the loft. There are minor repairs to be done like replacing window net, replacing a glass pane in the bathroom window, etc. — but that can wait for some time. Life is almost back to normal and if it weren’t for the faint lingering smell of paint and furniture polish, one can almost forget that a storm had ever occurred. A storm of repair and painting and a storm that I survived.
I would to love to share other stories, like “how the mango yellow wall in the living room turned out to be a sunny yellow wall and then became a turmeric yellow wall”, but you might get bored. Maybe a story for another blog post. And besides my favourite book reading nook in the house beckons