Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Apartment 701

There's no other explanation. It's haunted.

Flashback. 2005. Move to Mumbai. We found an apartment in probably the narrowest lane in South Bombay. It even shied away from the upmarket connotations of South Bombay. Well, at least our apartment was alright. The splash of colour in our lives was courtesy the previous tenant of the apartment who had painted practically every room, nay every wall, a different 'happy' colour. Despite the occasional feeling of being in kindergarten, and breaking into 'Colour, colour, what colour do you choose?' in a sing-song voice, we got down to the business of settling into the new city.

Once the ordeal of finding a Bai was firmly behind us, I began noticing strange things about the apartment. The wiring in the corridor-like living-cum-dining was such that we had to place the sofa along one wall, and the TV along the opposite wall, with a viewing distance as close as four feet. That was the only wall with a television cable inlet in the entire room. So, we got accustomed to counting the stubble on Van Damme's face, figured out the fake foam on Karan Johar's coffee and knew every time Oprah was having a bad-hair day.

The light bulbs in the house began popping dead every other day. Electricians arrived, shook their heads identically and declared with finality that the bulbs were of inferior quality. I insisted it was the wiring, but it's like telling a man to stop the car and ask for directions. We've now switched to CFL, although in that light, red wine now looks suspiciously like Worcestershire Sauce.

One day, a power surge caused a mini-explosion, smoke and all, in one of our televisions, rendering it semi-conscious. When the TV mechanic arrived, a weak voice emanated from the TV - a newscast about Amitabh Bachhan's trip to Siddhivinayak. When the TV was restored, I was the one rendered semi-conscious by how much the repairs cost. Well, at least we got our day's quota of Bachchan-watching.

I could go on. The security intercom rings and there's nobody on the line. The fire alarm in the corridor goes on without a prompt. The refrigerator suddenly revvs up. None of the table-lamps work. The music system is partial to FM radio but categorically refuses to play CDs.
And how would I explain The Clocks?

All our clocks have stopped mid-tock, even with new batteries. For some reason, the hands of time freeze in the wee hours of the morning, thereby making a mess of wake-up schedules. The cuckoo clock that matched the coloured walls in its chirpiness has gone silent. The bird stays put inside the clock at all times. I worry about that bird, sometimes. If things continue, I'll probably be smashing clocks with gusto like the crazed time-keeper of the Haveli in 'Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam', spouting philosophy about time and clocks that would have been appropriate if life was a Guru Dutt movie.

Flash forward. 2007. Mumbai feels like home now. We take it in our stride when someone tells us to take the 'patli gali', as that's where we live anyway. Things continue to go wrong in the apartment, but we've learned to adapt. We check the time on our mobile phones. We look forward with hope for the day FM channels will play all the jazz in our CD collection. We mock-fiddle like Nero every time the fire-alarm comes on by itself and I'm well on my way to creating my first installation with defunct electric bulbs.

We also have periodic lulls, although the thing about lulls is that they're short and they end before you can utter, 'Aaiga!'. Yesterday was one of those radiant mornings when the sky looked like blue-washed white clothes freshly returned from dhobi ghat. I woke up energized and even ready to take on a Borivili Fast at rush hour. But then you know how one of those days can end.

Returning home after an inordinately exhausting day, I loaded the washing machine and decided to wait for it to complete, blissfully unaware that the latest lull had ended. I heard an odd beep from the washing machine. The beep wasn't E1 – 'I'm just taking a breather here'. Nor E3 – 'Shut the lid properly, you dummy!' The beep I heard wasn't even in the manual - 'You crazy or what, flooding the kitchen like this!' I spent the better part of an hour cleaning up, wondering how the washing machine had the intelligence to detect a clogged drain, and the stupidity to empty a full-load-worth of soapy water anyway.

As always, that tech-savvy, mean-spirited otherworldly-cohabitant with the self-proclaimed sense of humour had the last laugh.
(An edited version appeared as 'Mumbai's Rent-A-Haunted-House' in the Open City column of the April 14, 2007 issue of dna)

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