Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Repair and Restoration

Little voices in my head say, “Lovely drying weather. Let’s wash all the curtains!” There’s no shortage of sunshine, but, up here on Floor 33, an outside clothes-line isn’t an option I’m prepared to consider, not without Suresh to do his heart-stopping trapeze number. (See view from apartment window: now do you believe me?)

So this is the system: Mr Francis says, “Any cloths, Madame?” and I hand over the laundry, coyly looking the other way. (Not underwear – I think you have to be married to a person for 28 years before they’re allowed to wash your underwear. I sneakily wash it myself - then, in the absence of radiators to deck with socks and boxers, drape the window-sills instead. In case you were wondering. And, frankly, even if you weren’t.)
Mr Francis washes our “cloths,” in my own washing-machine, here in the apartment. Whites and coloureds, pêle-mêle, together, but it doesn’t matter, because the water’s cold. Then he takes the sodden pile somewhere mysterious to be dried. I hope he has a machine for this, or at least an outside line, I can’t bear the thought of his house being festooned in our washing. It’s bad enough, if it’s your own...
Then – and this is the magic bit – he takes them to be ironed. A pile of clean shirts, each meticulously folded round a piece of newspaper, arrive in a crisp parcel, tied with thin string. It’s like having a new shirt, every day – except it’s better, only the front rectangle of new-out-of-the-pack shirts is creasefree, whereas these are perfect from collar to cuff. What can you say, for 10 rupees a pop? I struggle with my conscience for about four seconds, then decide the ironing-man is better at it than I am, and if I were to make a stand against slave labour, there’d be less lentils in the pot on his table tonight, so I give in. I undo the parcel, and wind up the string to keep. Citizen of Mumbai for less than three weeks, I’m becoming very Indian in my recycling ways.
There’s a problem under the sink, the kitchen’s awash. Suresh’s trousers are wet to the knee. Mr Francis summons the experts, then leaves. When the electrician and his side-kick arrive, it turns out the only English word they know is “electrician,” so an elaborate ballet ensues, culminating in their disappearing to buy a spare part. I feel very at home with this scenario, and settle down for a three-hour wait. Then the plumber arrives, but he also only knows one word of English. His, unsurprisingly, is “plumber.” After much smiling and pointing at watches, he goes away again, too. Within half an hour, Mr Francis brings him back. He sorts out the drain problem, and charges me 100 rupees (an iniquitous £1.20). It takes him longer to write out the receipt, than it does for him to unblock the drain. I’m just thanking him effusively, seeing him to the door (I’m not sure you’re supposed to offer cups of tea to plumbers in India, must check it in my Service Etiquette Manual), when the electrical men reappear. They show me the part – they have bought two to be on the safe side – so I try to exude admiration. It looks like a screwdriver stuck in a plug, as far as I can see, I’m none the wiser, but I nod. They fit it. We all nod, then say, “Thermostat,” in turn, like singing in a round. I pay them their fourpence and they go too.
An exhausting morning, one way and another. But at least, we have hot water again.