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Blocked Progress

by Kumaar Pradhan

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

The conspiratorial activities were at its peak when all the blocks started showing. Latches were fixed to all the blocks; and time came to fix the hasps and staples to the entrance doors. After hasp and staples were fixed, the supervisor was planning to carry out all inside work like floor tiling, construction of kitchen platforms, finishing inside doors, and windows, construction of fixed shelves and works. It was a big job of masonry and carpentry but could be completed in a couple of days.

By then the selection of blocks among all the four D’Sa brothers had finished and latch-keys were also distributed among the four brothers. Ratanbhai, the supervisor then knew which brother would come in which block. Probably Georgy or Freddy had told him, which was all right.

I used to go to the front progressing construction and watch how the work was being progressed. After all, Georgy and Freddy were expecting D’Sas to supervise the construction. Georgy and Freddy were so busy scheming that they hardly supervised the construction. Yule was very busy in his dramatic career and for a better part of month he used to be on the dramatic tour with his troupe.

One day I made a round of the front construction only to observe a weird, shocking and perplexing thing. All the hasps and staples were fixed to the entrances of each block except to the entrance door of my block. That means hasps and staples were fixed to two blocks on ground floor, to one of the two blocks on the first floor and to both the small blocks on the second floor. There was no hasp only for the block on the first floor where my family was likely to move in. Why the hell the hasp was not fixed on my block alone, I could not understand.

When I gave serious thought to this I remembered Daisy’s attempt to borrow our ration card. And a light struck me. A ration card was not needed by Daisy for her use; she was only appointed to impound it and pass it on to Freddy. That meant the lawyer in Freddy was active.

My two elder brothers had grown-up sons and probably the great lawyer had chalked out a plan to make me rush into one of the smaller blocks upstairs so that my block could safely be given to the elder brother’s son. I bolted up and became resolute and vigilant.

I brought up the fact that no hasp was fixed to my flat, to the notice of the supervisor Ratanbhai. He informed me, “My stock of hasps had exhausted.” I was surprised. Ratanbhai could have sent for a set of hasp and staple in the hardware shop outside the lane. He did not even have to take builder’s sanction for that.

I got hyper. I asked Ratanbhai, “Then do you need a shot in the arm to send for one? What are you waiting for? Please, ask the Seth to provide one or send for one from the local market.” But Ratanbhai did not do that.

Secondly I thought if you went about fixing the hasp from the top floor to the ground floor, the ground floor block would be left without a hasp. If alternately one started from the bottom blocks, a top small block would be left without a hasp. That is if the shortage theory was real.

But in reality the shortage was felt by Ratanbhai only for my block, which was neither on the ground floor nor on the top floor. I was not ready to buy the explanation. Even then I did not argue with Ratanbhai. I thought that Ratanbhai had to complete the task any way some day, and he would do it in good time.

However, Ratanbhai came out with a different excuse after eight days when I enquired whether the inside-work of my flat had started. He said, “Sahib, your block has been locked for the last three days. How could I carry on the work there? I could complete the inside work on all the blocks except yours on the first floor.”

I went up and found that the entrance door was shut and the latch had been locked. I thought Georgy ought to know about this incident. I went to the rear building, rushed into Georgy’s flat and reported the whole story to him. I sensed that Georgy already knew about it and was pretending that it was news to him. Freddy listened to my complaint and suggested I follow it up with Ratanbhai.

I said, “That’s what I am going to do anyway.” One thing I observed that none of them was much concerned about it. I expected that one of them would assure me that he would talk to Ratanbhai or to the builder himself.

A little disappointed, I went to my substitute flat, took the keys of the new block, went to the front construction, unlatched the front door, kept it wide open and informed the supervisor down, “Ratanbhai, I have opened the latch. Now you can carry on with the job, OK?” Ratanbhai just nodded. I somehow did not find Ratanbhai quite sincere about it. I went on about my business.

Two days later in the evening, I went up to my flat again to see how far the work had progressed. I was shocked to see that the door was locked again. I pondered who might be latching the door. Was it Ratanbhai, the supervisor? I suddenly thought, the inside work might have completed the previous evening and Ratanbhai himself might have latched the entrance door, which was natural.

So I went downstairs. Ratanbhai was supervising some work on the site. I asked him, “ Ratanbhai, is my flat’s work completed so soon?”

Ratanbhai, while turning to me, spat an abuse and asked, “Why are you locking the block? We cannot start the inside work if you lock it all the time.”

I was humiliated and irritated. I retorted to him that I had never gone upstairs since I informed him that the block was open. The supervisor said, “When my people went to the block to resume the inside work, they found it locked. How could they do the work?”

Ratanbhai sounded very rude to me. I did not want to hand over the key to Ratanbhai especially when the atmosphere was so stinky.

I realized that either the stupid Ratanbhai was locking the block at someone’s instance or someone else was pulling the door to and latching it. I was hanging around on the site, pacing up and down on the rough, pricking floor and brooding and thinking a way out. After about five minutes I was ready with a trap. I smiled to myself.

I turned to Ratanbhai and demanded sternly, “Ratanbhai, please leave aside the inside work. When are you bringing the hasp?” This question was startling. Ratanbhai fumbled a while and told me that he would fix that shortly.

I said, “Ratanbhai, now listen to me please. I give you a week’s time for that. Within a week if a hasp is not fixed, I will buy a brand new bolt of my own choice, hire the carpenter and fix the bolt.”

Ratanbhai did not understand which carpenter I meant. He said nothing. That was the first part of my strategy. The next part was to find out who was locking the latch every now and then.

I saw the workforce go away. Then I went to the first floor of the upcoming construction and opened the latch. I then retreated to the rear substitute accommodation. In the night I carried a battery, bluffed to Flora that I was going to the loo and went to the front construction. I climbed stairs to my block, rechecked if the door was then open. The door was still open. I nodded to myself approvingly.

My two elder brothers, Georgy and Freddy, used to go for the morning walk at dawn and would come back even before the construction workforce resumed. I woke up early the next morning. It was around seven o’clock. I went to the site of front construction, walked up to my flat and confirmed that it was still open. That meant that no one had yet come up to tamper with my plan.

Then I climbed one more floor and hid on the second floor. I could see anyone coming up the stairs through grill of the stairs. Georgy and Freddy presently came from their morning walk talking to each other. I sensed that that was the time when they hatched everything.

While engrossed in talking, one of them entered the upcoming building, as if for doing an avowed duty, climbed the stairs and in a few minutes I saw him going down. He quietly headed for the rear blocks. None of the two noticed me. I descended from second floor to first floor and turned to my flat. I saw that the door was shut and locked. The cat was out of the bag.

According to my strategy, the next few days I kept on deliberately opening the block and the ‘someone’ kept on closing it so that the latch was locked. I did not forget to remind Ratanbhai to carry the work and also to fix the hasp almost every day. I took care to sound casual about it. I did not want Ratanbhai to fix it till I brought my plan in action.

On the eighth day I went to Mumbai Lohar Chawl, which was a hardware market, and purchased a dazzling brass hasp and staple set. That was different from the ones fixed already by Ratanbhai to the other entrances. The hasps fixed by Ratanbhai to five flats were of wrought iron. The brass hasp bought by me was sturdy and shining. I guessed it would look entirely different. Once it is fixed to the door, it would shout, “I am different, I am different from the other five.”

On the ninth day in the morning I went out, brought a carpenter and asked him to fix the set of brass hasp which I had bought the previous evening from Lohar Chawl, Mumbai. In the next hour the bolt was fixed.

When I came down, Ratanbhai and his caboodle had already arrived on the site and the work had started. I coolly informed him, “Ratanbhai, the hasp and staple set is fixed. No one would ever lock the latch hereafter. OK?”

Ratanbhai did not understand how come Vic was so sure. Because the fixing of hasp did not mean that no one could pull the door and latch it. Ratanbhai took his workers and went up to my block. He not only found that a sparkling brass hasp bolt was fixed to the entrance door, but the door was ajar and the slid-out bolt was resting against the door frame from inside. A big sturdy padlock was attached to the bolt which prevented the latching of the door. As long as the padlock was there, nobody could latch the door.

Needless to add that the pending inside work of my flat was finished in one go.

The completion of our apartment building took nearly a year thereafter. After the building work was finished, we shifted to the new building one by one.

One fine day we had assembled in Georgy’s flat. The topic of naming the building arose. Georgy suggested, “See, we have shifted in to this apartment in spring. So think of some name which suggests blossom.

Yule was a dramatist. He said, “Why not Cedar Springs?”

Freddy generally did not tolerate that something good came from some one other than himself. He rebuffed, “How can cedar trees grow in our area?”

I suddenly rebuked him: “Freddy, for naming our apartments Cedar Springs, we need not have cedar tree in front of our building.”

Georgy also complemented the remark. “See, the town post is in the building named Sandal Haven. It does not have sandal tree in their compound.”

So Cedar Springs it was.

I still laugh up my sleeves how I foiled the attempt of my brothers to thrust the small block on me.

Copyright © 2012 by Kumaar Pradhan

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