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.