It’s the kind of dream we’ve all had finding a cottage in the hills with a tree or two and a patch of grass thrown in for free. And the reason is simple: enough of a caged life in the plains. ‘One can’t be too picky!’ They say. Of course, never you mind, if it looks rundown, or the roof caved in. Imagine the prospect of fresh air, no matter if wherever you sit, there’s always going to be something that needs fixing.
Take for instance, this engineer, an old schoolmate, who decided to fix the family cottage. Madhubani artists stayed for weeks, leaving their imprints on the walls. The result? A beautiful cottage - one to die for. Sadly, they discovered that the devil lay in the detail. Their contractor had drilled the power screws straight through Garhwali-slate roof, making holes in the tin-sheets below and in the monsoon, it poured like a sieve. Like a game of snake and ladders, he was back where he had begun.
And my friends were in good company. In the 1970s, Laxmi Tripathi, bought a ruin that needed tweaking: apart from broken windows, there was a WC that the last owner had planted in the back verandah. Or so she thought! ‘We’re so high on the ridge. It’ll attract lightning.’ So she talked it over with our expert – a know-it-all who had seen-it-all. ‘Lightning-conductor?’ he said. ‘No problem!’
Work began on a six-foot pit. All went well and then she stumbled upon a labourer painting a cast-iron manhole cover (stolen, no doubt, from a neighbour’s house!) with copper paint! ‘Yeh kya hai?’ (What is this?) She asked. He threw his cigarette, stomped on the butt, muttered: ‘Madam! Sasta padta hai! (It’s cheaper!) Aur bijli gireygi toh farak thodi pata chalega loha hai ki tamba! (And when lightning strikes will it know the difference between iron or copper?)
Around the corner, lived little Jack Horner, who was getting new wires, light fixtures and geysers put in. Everything was perfectly done. Or so he thought. Legend has it that he got his switches upside down. Result? On was Off! And Off was On!
‘Switch sey kya farak padta hai? Chalta hai! ’ (What difference does the switch make? Works, doesn’t it?) Switches set right, bill settled, Jack Horner went into the shower. As he switched on the geyser, the gate lights came on. He ran to the gate, pressed the doorbell – and the geyser hummed. ‘Ridiculous,’ he moaned. ‘Now he doesn’t take my calls!’
And lest this tale gets too long in the telling, we have a new way of telling an old plumber from a new one. Watch his lips! A novice’s will be moving: ‘Leftie loosie! Righty Tighty!’ ‘That’s the plumber’s song,’ says Anil Prakash of A. Prakash & Co., adding: ‘Invented by a well-meaning missionary for the young plumber’s father years ago!’ Of course at the end of the road, you’ve found your cottage in the hills.