The other day, a colleague, enquiring about the progress of our house, told us about her uncle who had started building two months after us and was now ready to move in. ‘When will you get around to moving in?’ she asked. I was stumped for an answer, for we, well, we were still juggling dates.
When we broke soil in July, I was definite we’d move in by Diwali. Every contractor we’d interviewed said three months at the utmost. For the structure, was what was left unsaid at the time. In my ignorance, I believed and was happy. Two weeks of pouring rain later, my more practical half took a look at the huge swimming pool that was our future basement and sighed. ‘Maybe New Year?’ I asked hopefully. He sighed again, meaningfully I’m sure.
By the time the swimming pool had been drained, the supervisor had developed malaria from the mosquitoes who’d taken it over as their happy hunting ground. Instead, the contractor sent his partner, who took up semi-permanent residence with us.
New Year came around, and we’d got the structure up, as promised. My hopes were high and I was looking forward to a birthday-cum-grihapravesh. Till the husband’s brother, and also the architect of the whole, came to take a look and said, ‘Well, congratulations! That’s half the house done.’
Half? I swallowed my chewing gum in my surprise. ‘Well, you have to get all the wiring, plumbing, underground tank, PoP, fittings, flooring done now. That’s a lot of work,’ he explained kindly. Whenever I profess ignorance, people are wont to treat me kindly. I’ve noticed the trend in office, too. But I ignored that for the moment and asked, ‘By Holi?’ He shrugged his shoulders. I think he forgot momentarily that he was talking to family – that shrug had to be how he dealt with over-eager clients. I persevered, ‘Can I start planting trees?’
The sister-in-law, also an architect, took over: ‘I think you should wait till you move in.’ And soon I saw why. My front garden, already a size that it would disappear completely if I spread my handkerchief over it, was dug up to accommodate two sewerage tanks, one each in two of its three corners. I shrieked silently. ‘You can put pots over it,’ said the husband hesitantly. He’d probably understood the silent shriek. And after fourteen years, he should. But how was I to grow trees in a pot?
The backyard was worse. I’d had a mind to cover the boring wall there with a fancy façade, but the husband had already scotched that idea with a meaningful look at his wallet. I was familiar with that look, having encountered it many times during the building of the house. But I continued to hope that we would move in around Holi. I even planned for a family ceremony after Holi, for I didn’t want my nice new tiles getting marauded with colour.
Two weeks before Holi, the carpenter threw in his hammer. The wood that had been perfect in the timber yard, when he was still anticipating a fat commission, was useless and needed to be dried for at least a month. Meanwhile, he, being a secular citizen of a secular country, was taking two weeks off for Eid and Holi. What he got was a boot – right out of the house.
Two days before Holi, the contractor’s partner discovered he had a problem with his kidneys and needed to go home for treatment. The contractor rang up urgently to say there was a wedding in his family and he too could not come down just now, would we please supervise the work ourselves? The husband, who was immersed in an extended editing session, decided it would be simpler to just let them take off for a couple of weeks.
Holi came and went. The new carpenter came. Naturally, nothing his predecessor had done was as it should have been. He immersed himself in redoing it all, even the door frames that had already been stuck into the walls. Meanwhile, the tile-layer has discovered he has appendicitis and taken off with the basement floor half-done.
That was where we were now, and that was why I was staring bemused at my colleague. She was still looking at me enquiringly. ‘Maybe the Fourth of July?’ I offered weakly. I personally suspect that we may well have to wait for the next – Indian – round of fireworks, Diwali, to get into that house.
PS: We did move in, some months after Diwali, at the end of March the next year!
First published in The Financial Express.