At last, my life's dream has been fulfilled! I am now the owner of a 500-square-foot flat in a housing society!
As I look back upon my life, a life that I had spent living in rented premises, I shudder at the recollection of how I had been a victim of the landlord's whims and fancies, always bending to his will.
Let me relate one small incident that had occurred three years back. It is still fresh in my mind. Walking back home from office one evening, I saw this man selling pictures. One particular picture appealed to me. It was that of a small child with a rather innocent smile. I bought it at once thinking it would brighten the dreary walls of my room. On reaching home, I surveyed the room just like a general would survey the battle-field, and my eyes rested on the spot which I felt would be the most appropriate for the picture. I found an old rusted nail and holding it in place, let it have with a hammer.
"What! What! what!" My landlord, who lived next doors, rushed to my room upon hearing the sound of the hammering. "What are you doing?" he asked me in horror as if I was striking someone with a knife.
"I just wanted to hang this picture," I spluttered.
"Haven't you read the Leave and Licence Agreement properly?" he asked me. The agreement says very clearly that you are not to cause any damage to the property. You are not to carry out any repairs or alterations without my consent."
I nodded my head in acknowledgement and meekly chucked the picture in the cupboard where it still lies to this day. Of course, I can now take it out and hang it on the walls of my own house! But as long as I stayed as Mr Shinde's tenant, I had never ever hung even a wall calendar and, so, was always doubtful about the date and the day of the week. It was not unusual for me to dress up on a Sunday to go to office!
The roof leaked at several places. But, my repeated requests to Mr Shinde to have repairs made were like asking for the moon. "You do not pay the rent on time and you want me to spend money to repair the roof," he would retort to my pleas.
So, when the rainy season arrived, you would find me busy placing buckets underneath the holes on the roof. I provided tremendous business to the local bucket seller as the roof developed new holes all the time and I was always running short of buckets. Once I had invited my office colleague Avinash home to tea. Looking at the large stock of buckets he had wanted to know whether I was planning to quit my job and take to selling these useful articles. There was a lot of money in it, he told me while suggesting that I could expand the merchandise later on to include brooms and doormats as well. I had never invited anybody to the house again.
But that was that, I decided. I had to live in a house which I can call my own - a house in which I could hang as many pictures as I wanted and whose roof did not leak. Besides, Priya and I had decided to get married. We had been seeing each other over the past three years. I had to have a home!
I began to save in right earnest and managed to pool up a sufficient amount in three years time. The next task was to convince the bank to extend me a home loan. After a lot of legwork, the bank finally relented and sanctioned me the loan. Priya had found the house of her choice and the negotiations completed, we were to move in within six months. Our flat was on the ground floor which offered us a little space in front where we could have a small garden. Priya and I tied the knot and were eager to start life afresh in our own home.
The flat exactly above ours belongs to Mr Sharma. The Sharma's are a small family - husband, wife and a precocious boy of thirteen. I hit it perfectly well with Mr Sharma and never fail to wish him "Good morning" every day as he descends the stairs to go to office.
But my attempts to foster good neighbourly relations with Mr Sharma suffered a setback within a month of my shifting to the new home. The foundation for the souring of relations was laid on a Sunday. Being a holiday, I was pottering about with flower pots to place in my mini garden when all of a sudden I found that heaven had poured a wide variety of foliage on me. Putting my hand to my head I pulled out coriander leaves from my hair. There were bits and pieces of garlic, onion, tomatoes, and potato skin. I had the whole vegetable market on my head! I raised my eyes heavenwards to thank god for this free offering but my eyes were arrested on the first floor itself when they caught sight of the disappearing back of Rohit, the apple of the eye of the Sharma household. Realisation dawned upon me. It was not God's blessing after all. It was the brat, Rohit, who had dumped the kitchen waste on my head.
Priya came out to see how I was progressing with my garden and pulled out a few carrot leftovers that had become entangled in my hair.
That was the beginning. Though I was not very enthusiastic about growing vegetables, my little garden provided me every day with tomatoes, potatoes, coriander, garlic, carrots, beans, peas, ginger and what not. Among the rubbish, I dug out egg shells even! This came as a surprise because Mr Sharma had told me he was a member of Organisation for the Protection of Animals Rights (OPAR). Of course, animals meant only tigers and lions. You cannot eat them. They eat you.
This could not go on, I decided. I cannot allow my garden to be regarded as a dumping ground for vegetable waste. But scratch my head as much as I could, no solution loomed before me. I am a meek soul who shies away from exchanging harsh words, particularly with people like Mr Sharma who have bulging muscles. A solution had to be found without antagonising Mr Sharma and, frankly, my head, which had been used as a tambourine by my teachers when I was in school, was incapable of helping me in this regard. Now, Priya has a large head which is always brimming with ideas. I decided to consult her. She did not even scratch her head and out came an idea from her ingenious brain in a jiffy.
There was no point in losing time and the plan had to be put into practice immediately. "Operation Biryani", that is the code name that we gave to our mission.
Next morning when Mr Sharma descended the stairs, I was ready in my garden to meet him. There was a distinct unhappy look on Mr Sharma's face. "Good morning Sharmaji," I greeted him cheerfully. He returned my greeting glumly. "Looks as if the alarm clock failed you today and all of you woke up late," I continued cheerfully. Sharmaji was taken aback. "How did you find that out?" he inquired. "Simple deduction," I replied. "There was no time for Bhabhiji to make you a good breakfast and you had to do with omelette and bread," I said smiling. Sharmaji was all the more flabbergasted. Perceiving the surprised look on his face, I hastened to explain that I had found egg shells and bread crumbs in my garden from which I had deduced what he had for breakfast. "But, do you eat eggs? Did you not tell me you are a member of OPAR?" I inquired innocently. Mr Sharma mumbled something, which I could not catch, and hurried away.
The plan did not work, and the next day I found more "food for thought" in my little garden. Again, I had to tell Sharmaji what he had had for breakfast. "Good morning, Sharmaji. So, today Bhabhiji had cooked matar-paneer it seems," I conjectured. Sharmaji nodded his head in agreement and I showed him the remnants of "matar" and "paneer" which I had found in my garden and from which I had reached the conclusion.
Now, Sharmaji is a straight-forward person who does not understand things if they are stated in a roundabout manner. He failed to understand that there was some hidden intent in my daily conjectures. In fact, he took it as a game. I must admit that I had lost my initial enthusiasm when I saw the plan failing and, so, was rather irregular in informing Sharmaji what was cooking in his own kitchen. On such occasions, it was Mr Sharma himself who would urge me to sharpen my investigative skills. "Ah Bannerjeeda, come now, tell me what I had for breakfast this morning," he would prod me. And I had to tell him.
I rushed to Priya again for her advice. As always, she had the answer. This was not the termination of the first plan but was rather the second phase of "Operation Biryani" which was assured to produce results. The plan was to be implemented the very next day at precisely 8 pm, and Priya agreed to actively participate in the operation.
The next day when the clock struck 8 pm (Actually, our clock runs 15 minutes slow, but we had decided to stick by its time), Priya and I stepped out of our house. Locking the door, we climbed up two flights of stairs to take us to the first floor. Standing before the door of Sharmaji's flat, I looked at Priya and she at me and, then, I pressed the door bell.
"Come in, come in," a genial Sharmaji welcomed us inside.
The brat, Rohit, was watching television but frequently kept throwing glances towards the kitchen. Mrs Sharma came out of the kitchen all smiles and Priya and I made ourselves comfortable after exchanging pleasantries with our good neighbours.
"Mummy, I am feeling hungry," Rohit grumbled in a loud voice. "Two minutes beta, the food is almost ready," Mrs Sharma told him.
This was the opening I was looking for and I jumped at it. "What is cooking? It is surely Navratan Korma," I said. Mrs Sharma was taken aback. "Yes, you are right," she replied.
With a triumphant look on my face, I turned towards Priya. "Did I not tell you the Sharmas were having Navratan Korma for dinner tonight?" I asked her. Turning towards Mr Sharma I explained, "I found nine varieties of vegetables in my garden this evening and was sure Bhabhiji was making Navratan Korma because this particular dish requires nine vegetables. I found bits and pieces of potatoes, carrots, green peas, french beans, cauliflower, capsicum, cabbage, bottle gourd and cluster beans strewn all across my garden."
My wife looked at me in admiration. "You are a genius," she gushed.
Priya and I told the Sharma's how much we enjoyed Navratan Korma. But, unfortunately, Priya did not have the recipe and, so, could not cook it. As for me, I could not even make tea.
The clock ticked away merrily and showed 8.30 pm.
Priya asked Rohit for a piece of paper and I handed over my pen to her. Mrs Sharma recited the recipe for Navratan Korma and Priya jotted it down meticulously.
The clock showed 9 pm. Rohit let out a loud groan and the Sharmas looked at us sheepishly. I made as if to get up and Mr Sharma's eyes lighted up. But the light went off all at once when he realized that I had stirred only to make myself more comfortable on the sofa. The wife (My wife, that is) also made herself more comfortable by pulling up her legs and sitting cross-legged. Priya now wanted the recipes for Aloo Amritsari, Maharani Dal, and Peshawari Chana. Poor Mrs Sharma had to oblige.
The clock was relentless and it now showed 9.30 pm. There was another groan from Rohit and the mother in Mrs Sharma could not bear it any longer. "Join us for dinner," she invited us out of sheer desperation. I immediately got up to take my seat at the dining table but, surprisingly, Priya declined the offer and nudged me out of the house. Later, when we reached our own nest, she explained that things had been carried too far and it would have been really cruel to have food meant for three to be shared between five.
Well, "Operation Biryani" was a grand success and I have never found even the tiniest piece of a tomato or a potato ever in my garden again. And, yes, Mr Sharma and I have turned into the best of friends. The Sharma's had invited us to dinner last Sunday and we relished the Navratan Korma. Mrs Sharma is indeed a very good cook. This Sunday we have invited the Sharma's for lunch and Priya has decided to cook Kosha Mangsho (Bengali mutton curry). That should not be a problem with Mr Sharma because he has relinquished the OPAR membership.