by Kumaar Pradhan
part 1 of 2
Sometime, when it’s quiet, I can remember what an ordeal I had to go through to move into Cedar Springs. That was the new name given to our building, which was being reconstructed after thirty years of occupancy.
Since the reconstruction started progressing, I was made to go through difficult time. In spite of it, I did not deviate from my steadfast disposition. I got at last my own way.
My real name is Victor, but everybody called me Vic. My brother Yule and I were listening to our elder brother Frederick, or “Freddy,” explain the plan. His voice rang in our ears: “Do you see the point Yule and Vic?” He continued. “See? None of us will have to leave our apartments. And we’ll all be available to supervise the construction.”
Yule and I nodded. Eldest George whom we younger brothers called Georgy, supplemented, “And unlike the other landlords in this town, we won’t have to shift away during the construction, to four different flats, miles apart from each other and also far off from this plot of ours.”
Yule and I nodded again. As if we knew nothing but nodding. To Yule and me the elder brothers’ plan seemed obviously all right. This way, the builder was automatically compelled to hasten our work. Yule and I were sure that our elder brothers would carry out the development scrupulously, though when I look back I realize how wrong I was.
Georgy was a loving and diplomatic person and Freddy was an egotist and cunning. Yule had expressed to me in undertone that Freddy was a rascal. But the scheme suggested by them was plausible and there seemed nothing wrong in the plan. To demand a substitute accommodation on their plot was Freddy’s concept to safeguard us all. Because of him, we D’Sas did not have to move out of our plot during the construction.
Actually it was possible because our ancestral plot was so large that this arrangement was practicable. However, Yule and I thought, “Hats off to Freddy for that!” After all, Freddy was a practicing lawyer. Though, I was not without scruples about Freddy. I firmly believed that world population was divided in two types of people: gentlemen and lawyers. I remembered many excesses of Freddy since my childhood especially since I lost my father.
But now the issue was about the development of D’Sas’ property. We all D’Sas had been staying for the previous thirty years in D’Sas Villa on our plot which we had inherited from our late father. He died intestate.
The rear portion of our property was a barren plot. Just a few days back my eldest brother Georgy D’Sa and second eldest brother Freddy D’Sa had covenanted with a builder to take the barren portion for his development and, in return, construct a new residential apartment building for D’sa families in the front part after demolition of D’Sa Villa.
Yule was a drama artiste and was mostly touring; he had no time to involve in the development. He once asked me, “Vic, do you think there is no catch in this arrangement?”
I told him, “Yule, of course, there’s a catch. The builder is not allowed to complete his construction unless he delivers satisfactorily completed apartments of D’Sa families. That means there is a clever catch for the builder.”
Yule said, “I caught it Vic, after progressing the construction only up to first floor on the rear portion of our plot, the builder will move us to the rear construction, won’t he?”
I said, “Yes Yule, and the builder will suspend the rear construction and concentrate on the construction of our promised apartment. This relieves you Yule, for your drama tour peacefully, ha, ha.”
Yule too had a hearty laugh and said “You guessed it right, Vic, I am scheduled to leave tomorrow and I was a little worried.”
Vic looked assuringly at Yule and said, “You can embark on your tour. The rear construction will take next three months or more. You may return by then, I hope.”
In a few months RCC structure and six slabs for rear building were completed. The builder started ground and first floor walls. At last the four flats of substitute arrangement for us were ready and we four D’Sa families moved in to the rear construction. Then the builder took to demolishing the D’Sa Villa, as envisioned.
Though I knew that in two years we D’Sas would get our own flats, I was uneasy that our old D’Sa Villa would vanish into the air in few days. I was the first to be born in D’Sa Villa. My elder brothers were born in Goa. I had different attachment to D’Sa Villa. I took some snapshots for keepsakes. I bowed before the empty, gruesome D’Sa Villa. The Villa looked desolate. I thought I heard a wailing in my ears. I could not bear it and ran to the substitute flats behind.
Actually the substitute flats were not completed. Many an amenity was to be incorporated. For example, although, the bathroom was provided, the loo was not provided in each flat and we D’Sas were using the old common loo which was out over there on the plot. All D’Sas would, turn by turn, visit that ‘sacred’ place in the morning.
In the loo provided inside the flats, we four D’Sas had loaded some luggage or containers of rice and wheat. That means it was generally being used as a store room. What was stored where, in those substitute flats, was hardly known to all in D’Sa families. For example, my wife would shout from the kitchen, “Vic, where is the rice, man?”
On this I would inform loudly to her from the living room, “Flora, Rice is in the loo.” In six months it became a natural jargon and we all would discuss without any inhibitions that such and such thing was at loo; that if she looked around in loo, she would find it there, so on and so forth. It had become a natural thing.
However, if the guests visited at the substitute flats and they heard this jargon, they would feel obnoxious and then we would be alerted to the situation. We would then explain or even show the clean, cemented, plastered place to them. The guests would discover the humor in it and it would then evoke ripples of laughter and create a jovial atmosphere.
The substitute flats were white-washed and handed over to us.
D’Sa Villa was brought to ground in next few days and builder’s workforce was concentrating on the construction of apartment on the front portion of the plot.
After the builder moved us in to the rear flats, the first phase of the development of D’Sa property was completed. Then in few months construction in front portion of plot was completed. That consisted of removing the debris of D’Sa Villa, leveling the earth, chalking out the plan of new construction, digging trenches for the base and starting the base work. All this was carried out quite smoothly.
We all were carrying our daily routine from rear flats. I had then just started my own business which had teething troubles and which I was carrying on from a substitute flat allotted to me, as usual. I had married just a couple of years before then. My wife Flora had not known the D’Sas very well.
One evening when I arrived home from my client, my wife Flora told me, “Vic, Daisy had called on our residence to demand our ration card.” Daisy was a distant relative of we D’Sas.
I was startled and holding my hands under running water from tap of washbasin, I turned my head towards Flora and asked, “Did you give the ration card to her?” I was standing still before the washbasin expecting to hear Flora’s answer.
Flora said, “I told her that I can give it to her only if Vic allows that.”
I exclaimed “Oh my gosh.” I turned to washbasin and completed my face wash and while mopping my face and hands with a Turkish napkin I said, “Flora, you have relieved me. Daisy is a cousin to all of us. Why did she approach us? She could go to anybody else here.” While taking tea from the dining room table, I said, “While our building is being constructed, we must preserve documents like ration card. Never part with them, no matter who demands them” Then rising from the dining table I informed Flora, “The ration card is a legal proof of our residence. It proves that our family was already staying separately. Tell Daisy to demand the card from me.”
Daisy never dared to approach me.
As the front construction progressed, I sensed some conspiratorial movements among my elder brothers’ families. While leaving the flats for my business every morning I had sensed an informal gathering in one of the elder brothers’ flat and had smelled some cloak and dagger activities.
Freddy’s wife, especially, was always seen whispering some gossip to Georgy probably about Freddy’s plot. When I used to come home in the evening I always heard something strange. When I was home and elder brothers and their families wanted to discuss some sinister points, a lass or lad from their families would be sent to my block to keep me engaged. This was in order that they could freely conspire. This went on quite some time.
Whenever I entered Georgy’s flat, I always sensed that there was a sudden change of subject. I had not expressed any suspicion to Flora. She was happy as ever, for soon we were to enter the new premises in the front construction.
In this atmosphere the front construction was progressing. The pillars and columns came up. The base was filled with soil; the first slab and the second slab were completed in due course. A professional supervisor called Ratanbhai was employed by the builder. He was doing a fine job. On the second floor two small blocks were planned. I never knew who owned those two small blocks. Construction of those small blocks had just then started.
The scheming atmosphere was persisting. I was surprised as to why my seemingly loving and kind elder brothers had suddenly started scheming. Unlike all the working brothers and sisters-in-law, I was in business. All of them were wage earners. I had to take care that the conspiratorial air did not affect my business a bit. So, I was working, as it were, with a pair of blinkers.
A businessman is shaky all the time. I was always scared of ups and downs in my business. I wanted to settle in my business. I was only confident that in a short time I would settle in. A businessman cannot tell when the days would change for worse. I had therefore decided to wink at the conspiratorial air and had continued the business with full concentration lest a serious mistake throw me off balance.
My image in the D’Sa household was not very encouraging. I was taken to be irascible, gullible, ignorant, shy and even dumb. This was not so much because I was really all this and dumb, too, but because Georgy’s and Freddy’s extra self-confidence had played my image down. Excessive self-confidence leads to misjudging other’s capacity. It was Georgy and Freddy who were spoiling my name in the private circle, and I was aware of it.
I was controlling my anger because I was starting a business. I knew how to safeguard my family’s interest. When sinister plots are being cooked, you sense them and become conscious. I was alive to the stinking air surrounding me. I felt my extra-sensory perception was improving.
Copyright © 2013 by Kumaar Pradhan