Apart-mental meetings part 3

After looking at her timer for a few seconds, Princi Face decided that it was now time for her to speak up. She unfolded her hands and cleared her throat.

Riverdale closed her Archie, put it beside and folded her hands, and took on her mom’s pose, relieving Princi Face to freely express her views.

“The Secretary recently replaced the fused bulb on the 2nd floor landing. I appreciate that….” She paused.

I had no clue why she referred to me in third person, even when I was sitting right there. Was it respect for the title, or was it because she hated even mentioning my name? This doubt was cleared in the next few seconds.

“….But I think The Secretary has been very unfair. While the first and third floor landing have ordinary 60 watt bulbs, why did The Secretary have to replace it with a fancy CFL bulb on the second landing?”

I gulped and meditated for a little while, to pick the right emotion before I answered that question.

One of The Four Ladies hated the delay, and decided to confront it herself.

“Why, atleast let one floor have good lighting. Let the bulb in your landing fuse, and then we’ll put a CFL bulb even in your floor…if that will make you happy.” She flared. It was obvious that she belonged to the second floor.
“…I think The Secretary has done something good. We must thank him for that” she ended, and looked at me like a victorious mother hen.

I felt like a coward to have engaged a spokeswoman.

Suddenly, in a fit of rage, Riverdale sprung up violently, flung her comic to one corner. “Oh okay!! If that’s the case, I’ll just go and break that damn bulb on our floor right away” and was all set to storm out and enact the scene.

But the proceedings were spoilt by the Oriya Stud, who was quick and responsive with his out-of-the-box solutions. He volunteered to donate the two spare CFL bulbs that were lying unused in his attic ever since he had moved in here.

The Smiley played his role of a cheer mascot by rotating his head in slow motion.

The Princi Face called a truce by folding her hands and returning back to her initial pose.

Riverdale was visibly upset that her dramatics was nipped by this Gandhian settlement. She sat back on her chair and furiously punched the shortcut keys to Snake Level 5 on her Nokia.

It was 9 pm now. I was hungry, and I made some feeble attempts to disperse the crowd.

“Looks like your kid is feeling sleepy”
“Isn’t sa re ga ma finals today?”
“The neighbour must be wanting her dining chair back”

The hints were conveniently ignored. The audience wore a determined look, that they would not budge till they got their full share of entertainment. Also, they had just been deprived of some explosive action by the Oriya, and this had to compensated.

The meeting gained an inevitable extension, when a new entrant walked in with fresh enthusiasm. All hopes of fulfilling any unfulfilled entertainment now rested on this new messiah – A short middle aged man with an irritating looking moustache. A spiky one that automatically gave his pesky looking face an authoritarian edge.

He leaned across to the elderly man and got himself a quick update on all the points discussed. He shrunk his lips till the spiky hair of his moustache fanned out, and nodded his head in introspection with a ‘hmmmm…’.

A ‘hmmmmm’ that bundled all the matters discussed, to futility. And arrived at a subject of paramount importance, that could possibly make up for the lack of substance, during his absence.

“What about the calling bell? I heard that a new one was installed, and now even that one is spoilt?” he said in an accusing tone, looking at a wall hanging situated right next to where I was sitting.

(OK, a little background on the calling bell….. At Kumbha, the watchman’s room was a furlong away from the gate. And Kumbha residents had made it a point that the gate be locked sharp at 10pm. So anyone who arrived after that, had to wake up the watchman by ringing the calling bell, the switch of which was next to the gate. No, It was not expected that the watchman remains awake at that time. The calling bell had not been working ever since I moved in. And nobody found the need for it, as everyone got home before 9pm. So, after many unsuccessful attempts of trying to wake up Bahadur without waking up the others, I finally decided to change the calling bell. A decision I bravely took without consulting the others. To my dismay, the new one stopped working, within a month.)

The others hung their heads as if they had been put to shame by my careless act. They obviously knew something that I didn’t.

“I put a new one….and ya, it conked….so i’ll replace it now.” I said trying to dismiss it frivolously.

Mr Moustache gave a half grin, stared at a particular tile on the floor and said in a menacing tone “How much did you pay for the calling bell?”

“250 bucks” I said.

Mr Moustache shifted his grin to the other half of his face, and stared at another tile on the floor.

“250 bucks. Hmmmm….What a waste!”

He placed his chin on the hand, curled his upper lip inward, bit a few strands of his moustache hair, and continued looking at the tile on the floor. And waited for adequate silence to prepare ground for the point he was about to make.

I was fed up. I had made up my mind that I will trash any remark of his to pieces.

Without moving his head, he lifted his eyebrows and looked at his wife who was One among The Four Ladies, gesturing her to state the point that I was so idiotically missing. She clasped her hands and broke the suspense.

“Mr Rajesh, don’t you know that he deals in calling bells?”

The Elderly Man moved back into his chair, to clear the path of vision between Me and Mr. Moustache.

“For 11 years, I’ve been working in the sales department of a calling bell factory. We manufacture all kinds of calling bells. And also thermos flasks.” continued Mr. Moustache adding finer details to emphasise his point.

His voice quivered. He was absolutely shattered and betrayed that noone bothered to consult his expertise in this area. One of his rare chances of offering advice had been impetuously neglected.

“If only you had asked me, I could have given you the latest in the market at cost price.” he regretted.

Riverdale observed silence by dogearing her comic. The Princi Face passed her judgement by letting out a loud sigh. The earrings of The Four Ladies shook in tandem. The Elderly Man jutted out his lower lip and folded his notes. The Elderly Aunty munched her potato chips noiselessly. The Oriya wore a look of condemn, hoping that I would pick it up. The Smiley’s smile relaxed, giving me a glimpse of how he looked otherwise.

The pressure in the room forced me to not be amused by it. I had answers firmed up in my head for everything. Not this one. I was at a loss of words. I had never met anyone, even remotely, who had anything to do with calling bells.

I was forced to shamefulness, for taking the wrong call.

Rather the wrong calling bell.

My thoughts were interrupted with a ‘Ting tong’.

The neighbour wanted her dining chairs back.

Apart-mental meetings part 2

I looked around to see if I’ve missed out on anyone. I still had one glass of Fanta and a paper plate of the critically reviewed potato chips and sweet.

I scanned the faces in the room, one by one.

Two Elderly Aunties, who had sacrificed their evening brisk walk for this social cause.

An Elderly Man who was holding sheets of the previous two ‘minutes of the meeting’. While the ladies were busy chit-chatting on their tailors and trinkets, he was constructively highlighting the pending jobs with his ‘Reynolds Bold’.

A young Smiley man who provided evidence of his presence, by breaking into a smile everytime he felt someone was looking at him.

An even younger Oriya software dude, who was a first timer in these meetings, all set to outshine the others with ‘out of the box’ suggestions.

A ‘School Principal Faced’ lady who had her hands folded and looked at her watch periodically to indicate her displeasure, on any loose talk.

Her teenage daughter who had momentarily stepped out of ‘Riverdale’, to join this meeting. She had equipped herself against any likely boredom, by carrying an archie comic, and also a backup – her mobile, on which she furiously kept typing away smses to her tribe.

And of course the Four Ravishing Young Ladies in the centre who had no doubt that this evening belonged to them.

Everybody had had their refreshments, except the Princi-Face, because she still had not cracked how to eat with her hands folded. ‘Riverdale’ had avoided the sweet by tossing the imaginary hair that she had lost in her previous haircut. “I hate sweets” she declared with pride, certified by a customary nod from her mama.

The excitement in the Four Ladies’ corner was dying down. The novelty of their fineries was beginning to fade away.

The Smiley gauged the situation, gathered courage and announced in a nervous tone “Shall we start?”.

The Elderly Man jumped at this opportune moment, adjusted his spectacles, referred to his notes and began with the point that affected his life the most.

“The overtank continues to overflow. Bahadur does not switch off the motor on time….. The water comes straight to our balcony where we dry our clothes…..all our washed clothes are getting dirty everyday” he concluded, looking around for empathy.

Riverdale just got an sms. The Oriya had no idea that the apartment had an overhead tank. The Smiley transferred the problem to the rest of the audience by rotating his head. The Princi-Face looked at her watch. The Two Elderly Aunties broke the silence by crunching their ‘potato chips’. The Four Ladies expressed disgust that their fine conversation had to be interrupted by such a trivial problem.

Afterall, this was a meeting to discuss ‘common problems’ and not someone’s common problem.

“Why don’t you ask Bahadur to stop the motor on time?” retorted one of The Four Ladies.

The Elderly Man refused to accept that a problem of such magnitude had such a simple solution. He protested by keeping a straight face and only moved his eyeballs across the silent audience, hoping to find takers who could escalate it to greater heights.

The Smiley decided to add some weight to the discussion by compounding the nature of the problem. “No no…the problem is with the watchman. He is negligent towards his duties. He is not doing his job right. There is no proper security. He allows anyone and everyone inside the premises. He should be given a list of people he can allow without questioning…like the newspaperman, milkman, flower lady ….”

One of the Elderly Aunties found the hint she’d been waiting for and butted in “I must tell you one thing. Why does the flower lady not give fresh flowers to everybody. Some people get fresh flowers and some people get old flowers. Why? Why?”

(A little background on the flower lady: Since most of the members in Kumbha were religious, they had engaged a flower lady to deliver jasmine flowers early in the morning to every house. She had limited stock of fresh jasmine garlands, and when she ran out of them, she would hang one from the previous evening’s leftover, on the door. She followed a regular route beginning from the top most flat and making her way down. So invariably the ones on the top got the fresh ones and the others got the stale ones)……phew!!

Unlike the previous one, this problem seemed mutual enough for a discussion.

“We must install CCTV” suggested The Oriya confidently, expecting the audience to lap it up.

“Oh yeah!! They’ve got one in my college now.” said Riverdale excited with the idea of Kumbha making it’s foray into cutting-edge arenas.

The Four Ladies blinked. The Elderly Man continued to hold on to his expression, hoping that the discussion would retrace itself to the question that started it off. The Princi-Face chose to reserve her opening dialogue only for a matter that concerned her or her daughter. The Other Elderly Aunty made a hurried exit the minute she heard her favourite serial’s title tune blare out from the neighbouring flat.

The silence pressurised The Smiley to come up with a response.

After some pondering The Smiley replied ‘It’s very costly’.

For some reason, he chose to reject it on the grounds of economy than irrelevance. Also, The Smiley knew his audience better, since he was the previous Secretary. He had faced a lot of flak for spending a small portion of the fund money on refilling the sand pit with fresh sand, without consent.

Riverdale fingered a random page on her comic and poured into it, now that the topic had steered away from exciting gadgetary discussions.

After a little debate, they chose a non-glamorous way out. The flower lady will change her path everyday, so that everybody takes turns in getting their share of stale flowers, till such time The Secretary finds another flower lady who has a greater stock of fresh flowers.

The Elderly Aunty went back to her ‘chips’ feeling content on her perfect understanding of democracy.

Since one problem had been sorted out, The Four Ladies felt that they now had earned the right to indulge in some stray talk. One of them had spotted the flower lady’s husband cleaning cars in the neighbouring street shamelessly, while he had clearly refused all offers made by her, stating that he was sick. The Other Three Ladies lent their support and threatened to seek revenge by terminating her flower contract. The Oriya was touched by this camaraderie and pledged that he would spare the future driver of his future car for this purpose. The Four Ladies looked at him with compassion and mentally decided to reciprocate this kindness, by excluding him from their idle gossip.

The Princi-Face looked at her watch twice, sending out a strong signal to move on the next problem on the list.

To be contd…….

Thanks to Vyshnavi and Ramesh for helping me modify the title to a more suitable form.

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