Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ars gratia artis

So, where’s that monsoon gone, then? We haven’t had wet toes since last Saturday, seven days of drought. I’ve got two umbrellas which haven’t even been unfurled yet, except in the shop. The corporation water tankers are out, today. I see a little bloke up a ladder, with a big green curly hose, force-feeding a civic tree gallons of water. We had about a foot of rain last week, I can hardly believe the local flora’s spitting feathers, just yet. Maybe he gets paid per bole.

I think it rained, in the night, but our windows are indented, thus immune to splashing, and there’s only so much you can say for definite, at midnight, as far as damp tarmac’s concerned, a hundred yards below. In traffic-light retail, back at day-time street-level, umbrellas have ceded the field to colouring-books and car-polishing cloths, again, so we’re lulled into thinking the monsoon may be remarkably short, this year. Four months, down to eight days - global warming, I’m thinking.

Today, we spring-clean, in anticipation of house-guests. Scrubbing three toilets and ferreting the dust-bunnies out from underneath the sofas, I’m not unaware of a certain irony. The third scion of the House of Gower is the least tidy person the world’s known, since Man first stood on his back legs, and said, “This cave could do with a spruce up, Maureen, where’s the Ewbank?” Jacob’s more than happy, to slouch in front of his computer, curled up in a blissful mélange of lecture notes, toast crusts, beer-bottles and unwashed boxers. He lives, what you might call, in medias res – the detritus of living laps chummily about him, and, if you ask him to do something, he’s always just in the middle of doing something else. More sensitive to words than bacteria, he’s offended if you say “mess,” or “pig-heap,” or “e-coli,” in his presence. “I don’t know what you mean,” he protests, stung, “I tidied up for you...” The ironic thing about this piece of irony, though, is that it doesn’t make any difference: even as I tell myself, that Jacob and his mates won’t a) notice or b) care, I’m still hurtling round the flat, like a whirling dervish, with a mop. I make the beds, with the seven-piece embroidered coverlet set, matching the curtains. I have yet to meet a man who can see the point of cushions, but I tweak and fluff, nonetheless. Mr Roland, meanwhile, prepares for the invasion by laying in a crate of beer, and even I can see that this is the targeted kind of forward thinking, which knocks embroidered pillowslips into a cocked hat, as far as noticing and caring are concerned. We are what we are, I reflect, peevishly polishing the bathroom taps, and unwrapping peaches and fruits moisturizing soap with aloe vera.

Out there, on the streets of Mumbai, last week’s initial skirmishing, with torrential rain, has given the lorries a much-needed wash and brush-up. In India, the lorry’s an art-form unto itself – a vehicle in more than one sense, then. I feel, increasingly, that we’re repressed, lorrily, in the UK. We have acres of vanside devoted to “Eddie Stobart” or “Alfred McAlpine” – how interesting isn’t that? Here, the only limit’s your imagination, and why not? We see not only butterflies, and shells, and flowers – the lotus is very popular, for obvious reasons – but also whole scenes unravelling, on the flanks of passing trucks. There are pastoral tales, with calves suckling, or balmy beaches, or birds in flight. There are religious tableaux, with Ganesh and his missus, or Krishna, cavorting with his flute and his glee-chorus of cowherdesses. Often, the petrol tank’s painted with a tiger, its mouth snarling round the inlet. And propaganda, “India is great!” just above the "HORN - OK - PLEASE." I wonder, if you have to be handy with a paintbrush, to drive a lorry, here, or if there’s a fleet of peripatetic truck-artists you can employ, to embellish your rig, in a lay-by somewhere. I wave and smile at a lot of lorry-drivers, to while away the long hours of traffic-jam prison, and they smile and wave back, but I don’t yet know any of them, on first name terms. When I do, I’ll ask. Even the cement-mixers, down on the building-sites in Powai, are painted with flowers. We’re missing a whole aesthetic opportunity, here. Why not lorries?

Chain-fringeing’s also a favourite, here, along lorry bumpers, but it passes my understanding – does it have a function (lightning conducting, for example), or is it just heavy metal lace? Long tassels of tinsel dangle from the wing-mirrors, and swags of orange flowers festoon the cab. A hundred years ago, in January, it seemed tawdry, but now, it’s normal, so a lorry, without garlands, looks positively lustreless and bah-humbug.

Wasp-waisted 1950s showgirls, in swimsuits (or not), languish on the windscreens of lorries back home, next to a loving inscription - “Christine” or “Waynetta” – wife? girlfriend? 1950s showgirl, maybe? Here, there’s not a cab you couldn’t show your Mum – the decals depict praying hands, entwined with a blooming rose, or a jolly god, having a think and setting the world to rights, or just a spangly “Om.”

Monu’s picking us up at four o’clock in the morning, to meet Jacobsir’s plane. Guess when the monsoon’s scheduled to make a reappearance? Timing is all, I always think. Hope the boys have packed their sou’westers, wrapped round their Lonely Planet Guide to India. I've parked my broom, because we're ready, more or less. As well as Mr Roland’s stash of Kingfisher, we’ve got an industrial sack of Bombay Mix in the cupboard, and enough pappads to tile the whole apartment. Just need to pop to the Culture Shop, to see if they’ve got any guest-towels with Ganesh on.