The crown jewel of our home-the one object which makes visitors exclaim and admire-the vantage point for soaking in the forest – the second most photographed item in the hamlet (the dogs, undeniably, take the first position)- and perhaps, the one thing for which I would kill anyone who tried to take it from this home.
I am talking about our lovely vintage swing from Gujarat. The beautiful brass links were lugged in a wobbly bag from Vadodara. The polished wooden base was crafted perfectly by a grateful carpenter in Delhi ( grateful for me arranging his vasectomy and saving him from fathering a zillion sons while his wife pined for a daughter..yes, these things happen in India). The brass hooks were found in a tiny shop at Chandni Chowk, behind the line of fragrant dry-fruit stores. And finally, the right bolsters to nestle between the brass links and provide neck support for some soulful star-gazing sessions at night.
And to think that the swing might have never got here! Oh yes, my dear readers, there was a time when the famous “laid-back- work-culture- of- the- hills” almost aborted this lovely creation. This famous”laid-back-work-culture-of-the-hills” sounds quirky and cute when one reads about it in books. It’s something to smile about, when someone else talks about tearing their hair out while waiting for a window latch to be fitted, or a light bulb holder to be installed in a straight line. And it is something I was sure of avoiding—the perks of buying a readymade flat, instead of striding out into the unknown and scary world of getting a house built.
April 2012 saw us uprooting ourselves from Delhi and shifting all our belongings to this flat. The girls were there too, and in that one week of being family, we managed to find the right places for most of our stuff, sort out and throw/give away 50 odd coffee mugs ( till that time, I had no idea that I was collecting mugs) and arrange clothes, linen, shoes, crockery and furniture to some degree of collective satisfaction . The girls left Ranikhet and I was on my own, with this pile of brass links and chains and wooden plank for company.
Next week, I drove across to the local blacksmith and welder and invited him over to have a look at the balcony and figure out a way to install that heavy swing. He came immediately, with his two tall and brawny sons, and all three of them took measurements, lifted up the brass pieces, squinted at the beams and discussed matters in Kumaoni, a language I am yet to decipher to my satisfaction. I was told that a thick iron rod had to be ordered from Haldwani ( 90 kms down in the plains), cut to size and then drilled into the beams, soldering at the …………… etc etc. they had lost me by then, but I gave them the advance cash and was assured that I would be having a swinging time in ten days time.
Ten days went by….so did twenty. I drove up again to the shop and everyone came over to reassure me that the iron rod was on its way up. It was just that the old mother had passed away/the new cow had been chased by a panther and stopped giving milk in fright/the younger son had got a recruitment call at the Regimental Centre/the mobile had fallen out of the pocket while welding and some phone numbers had vanished. But there was nothing to worry about, I would be having a swinging time in ten days time.
Ten days went by, and another ten would have gone too, but I had been waiting for a month and that iron rod was still on the road from Haldwani. Two more visits and the same issues and similar reassurances were given, in honeyed, polite voices with contrite concern in each syllable.
The entire interaction made me feel like I was being an unreasonable, nasty, frustrated city migrant who had no respect for the (famous) “laid-back- work-culture- of- the- hills”. I didn’t like this feeling and I didn’t like that gloomy foreboding for the future—the swing was not going to happen.
Two months, sixty four days to be exact, had to pass before I was ready to throw in the shovel. I had had enough of this patient acceptance of the (now infamous) “laid-back- work-culture- of- the- hills”. Ten am arrived, sunny and clear, and I dumped both the dogs in the car and drove to the workshop for the last time. The appropriate sympathetic expression was in place and the right amount of hand-wringing was being done by the old welder and his brawny son. But I was not having any more of that.
“Adhikariji,” I told him in a level and carefully balanced tone, “if you do not arrange for the swing to be fitted today afternoon, I am going for a drive with the dogs in my car. I will drive the car off the road into the deep ravine next to your village and kill both the dogs and myself. Then, from tomorrow onwards, I will become a nasty and persistent ghost who will torment and torture 7 generations of your family.” And then, in the same level and carefully balanced tone, I added “you will not get a chance to test my resolve because I will turn myself into a nasty spirit before you go to bed tonight. Namaste”.
I turned around, got into my car and drove home. Not a minute spent waiting for a response, not a backward glance, not a smile or a tear.
Ten minutes behind me, trundled up this big jeep. Out jumped the welder and BOTH the brawny sons. Quickly unloaded by these three nervous men—a thick iron rod of the correct length, the welding machine, the drill and cement for fixing that rod, a ladder and anything else which I cannot recall. I can recall, however, the shocked silence and the desperate urgency with which the swing was installed. I can still see the furtive glances at my stony face and the unspoken doubts and questions about that threat.
My stony face dissolved into delight and mirth once the swing was in place. Their worried and tense faces relaxed when I brought out steaming cups of tea and snacks. And all parties agreed that there was absolutely no need to bring in nasty ghosts and spirits into the quiet hills. Especially when we are encountering the “laid-back- work-culture- of- the- hills” in our daily lives.