Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Man In The Dog House

We call him Kaka.

Reminds me of the cowboy (may even be a redneck variety)joke. When a newspaper reporter asked an oldie, did he always call his wife honey? Naaah, he said, been doin' that only for five years -eversince I forgot her name.

Kaka is a big burly man. Sort of a de-clawed tiger. In spite of huge frame and a dead pan expression, he seems very soft at heart. He has probably looked after my landlady's kids in various roles, gatekeeper, watchman, babysitter, vegetable buyer, kitchen help, even a bulldog.

One day I went looking for him to tell him a pipe leaked in my bathroom. Couldn't find him anywhere... the entire ground floor block usually remains open -I am amazed, with hardly an occupant around. I thought of going in to the Dog House. There he was. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, eating rice and his meal... at eleven in the morning. Probably a throwback to his farming days in the village they all come from, eight hours journey from Chennai. Early to rise, early meals, early winding up and hitting the sack circa eight in the evening.

That odd construction, sort of an architectural miscarriage if you take a hard look at it, seems like a giant dog house, not a sentry's cabin. It is built at the farthest end of the huge house, not in the front, which gives is a secondary importance in the scheme of things. The architect God bless his soul, has put sort of tiled roofs, turning every window into an ornamental object, and this Dog House has one too. The overall effect has been ruined, quite unintentionally.

Kaka knows as little English, as I do Tamil. I can count up to ten. So telling time when someone (and ten persons do that every day) ask me yenda mani? I confidently round up the hour to the nearest figure and say anja mani (five o'clock it is is quarter to or past five) or moonu mani (three) so on and so forth. Both of us need to deal with each other daily and the sign language comes to our rescue, causing ceaseless comedy... to his relief and my chagrin. Things don't get done if one of us misunderstands.

He asked me once to start paying him two hundred rupees to wash the car daily. My tomato red old Beast, is positively a magnet for dirt, dry leaves, birdshit and worse. The first day he did it with a vim and vigour that surprised me, and he gave me a wonky smile, many of his tobacco teeth have parted company with him for good, and I said nalla nalla [good good]. He disappeared for the next five days, to my horror and disappointment.

We both would have gone through our wordless song and dance routine to explain his absence, me asking and he replying, but a casual remark from the landlady's son who is the only person speaking English in four families staying around me, said Kaka had gone to his 'native place'. So I tried to think kindly of him, instead of mentally conjoining him with the outlaw and brigand Veerappan. So many people have taken me for a ride, I am becoming distrustful of the populace.

The battery finally died, as it is the air-conditioner was drawing lifeblood from it so I had stopped using that... usually the late afternoons are breezy and one doesn't need the AC. I left it at the service station and walked some distance to catch one of these ugly "Meter Taxis". They do carry fare meters that are as redundant as nipples on a man, and even the fare is quixotic. Not according to kilometres but according to your state of exhaustion and need.

The nearest thing I have experience to using a vibrator is an electrical etching tool for marking metals. So I can imagine the effect of the other variety used for physical stimulation...but oh boy. A Meter Taxi is a whole vibrator itself, you go right inside, and it stimulates every inch of your skin, muscle and tickles the bones too. It shudders, judders, throbs and rattles... when I got off after twenty minutes, the whole body was was itching as if I had been given a powerful massage.

The car's battery didn't charge up as expected so next day also I had to resort to the use of three wheeled auto rickshaws. A friend, God bless her soul, asked me to come for dinner, and I caught an auto to reach early. Getting off, I gave the driver a hundred rupee note, plus a ten rupee note and he returned a fifty rupee note. Instead of sixty he charged me seventy, which was not bad. After walking for five minutes I realized the single note in my wallet had been a five hundred rupee note... so I had paid the driver 470/- rupees instead of 70/-.

Sigh, I do have suicidal tendencies.

(c) Max Babi


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