Indra painfully opened his heavy eyes and heard the piercing ring of the alarm clock. He could sense heat of various shaped shafts of bright sunlight intruding from holes of the window glass. He slowly extended his right arm and pushed down the stopper to kill its sharp, echoing noise, his concerned and bossy landlady Ganga Bai, must have heard.
He felt pathetic with a throbbing headache- obvious after affect of late night heavy drinking-lots of stinking rum and too little food. He had no choice but to take a strong position against those stupid arguments, rater than to eat that spicy and greasy, stale food at a roadside dhaba on the Aimer road.
It was a Sunday and the clock showed ten minutes to noon. The old ceiling fan was circulating hot stuffy air. He flung the sheet over and sat on the corner of the bed. The floor was heating up by shafts of sunlight, containing numerous floating tiny objects, made visible by the bright sunlight. Particles of dust, pieces of hair, lint with fragments of carbon soot floating around aimlessly. Too much pollution in the Pink City will turn it in to a stink city. He felt the strong, pungent odor from the open sewer one floor below his window, which opened to the gandi gali, the dirty street, receiving a continuous waste discharge of all conceivable variety.
The back lane primarily made to provide ventilation to the closely erected houses, had always been put to another more demanding need- the waste disposal. In older times, the sweepers kept these lanes clean under supervision of stern jamadars. Moreover, in those times the waste generation was in manageable limits. Now it was different, the same old pathetic tale-of indifferent dwellers, city leaders, planners and executioners ruining a thoughtfully planned, beautiful city.
He shifted his position to avoid the hot spots on the floor and settled down to plan- day’s activities. There was not much to plan. Still the activity gave him a feeling of organization and efficiency. He picked up the bottle of water from the wobbling side table. The taste was stale and warm.
‘Babuji! Get up, I am here.’ It was his maid Laxmi Bai to do the cleaning and cooking.
Indra hurriedly got up and started to organize the room. He covered the bed by the sheet and looked around to inspect the room for any object of embarrassment, before letting her in.
‘Indra beta, get up, it is almost twelve noon now.’
It was Ganga Bai and she continued with deep disapproval-‘ I don’t know, what is he does so late every night. I must tell his mother, when she visits him next time.’
Sound of muted laughter and clinking bangles, come filtering through the cracks in the door, window and ventilator. Indra silently went to the washbasin and splashed water on his face. He did not like what he encountered in the left tilted mirror- heavy swollen eyes; disheveled hairs and an unshaven face stared at him. He tried to align the tilted mirror vertically but due to wrongly screwed hanging loop, it faithfully retained the old position almost immediately as he removed his hands from it. Indra gave up and decided to mend it after he is through with the ladies.
A fast combing of hairs, toweling of face, tidying of his night cloths- and he was ready to face the old ladies. He moved towards the door.
The location of his room was quite convenient in all respects. It boasted of a separate toilet and small kitchenette, a deep cabinet with door, open rack for books and 2 deep attics for his sparse belongings.
‘What has happened to our resident drunkard?’
He could recognize the voice of that snooping fox Chauth Mal Soni, occupying the two-room portion opposite his one room. Indra stopped and decided to listen further.
‘He is not getting up as usual, what else? Today I am going to give him a piece of my mind. This is too much.’
Ganga Bai sounded worried, suspicious and angry in a safe descending order. He picked up a peppermint tablet from the small attic to cover the horrible breath. Mehra was indeed a rascal as he produced smelly but heady stuff for such occasions with a criminal regularity.
‘Come on Tai! How can he get up after a debauched night of drinking wine and company of whores?’
Chauth Mal was trying to create trouble for him. Now the sound of laughter was clear and contained a wider participation of ladies and children.
‘Chauthu! Will you shut up and go away to your shop, right away.’
Ganga Bai was sharp and angry with Chauth Mal to utter such prohibited words in the house, and that too in her benign presence.
No, taai, I am telling you a truth. Believe me, I saw him in bad company many a times. And I can prove every thing. You must tell him to leave at once. He is a bad influence in our - I mean-- your building. And one more thing - he mingles with females too much. I just don’t like this vagabond here.’
Chauth Mal spewing venom persisted in his attack; he eyed his room for one of his cousins.
Indra felt a knot of anger forming. This is too much to tolerate- he must punish him right now. He would love to demolish his fake sense of importance severely in front of his charming and seductive wife. Nevertheless, he restrained himself and decided to brush teeth, and reduce the traces of that horribly smelly rum and the bad taste, before he made him self present to the eagerly waiting crowd out side. He silently went to the washbasin in the corner and picked the brush and toothpaste from a deep attic in the solid old wall. His movements must have alarmed a baby lizard, which darted out of the attic and looked at him inquiringly, hanging up side down from attic top surface. Indra stared at the toothbrush, which might have used by the lizard in various ways. Its smooth handle was a good surface to sleep on. There was also a strong possibility of the lizard using it as a urinal. Indra decided to discard the present brush and in future keep such things in relative safety of the cupboard. The lizard meanwhile has haughtily twisted its tail, moved to the wall, and kept on eyeing him by slowly rotating its soft neck; expressions of deep disapproval and annoyance were evident.
Ganga Bai, the sole owner of the building- a childless widow, for some unexplainable reasons treated him rather well. It was quite unusual due to her unpredictable temper and authoritative bearings. She kept a stern eye on her tenants and their life style; and rebuked the wayward suitably. She believed in order and discipline in her building and did her best to maintain it. Now her falling eye sight and aggravating painful back ach has slowed down her vigil and supervision. Her greedy relatives have noticed the deteriorating state, prompting them to increased frequencies of visits to inquire about her health. Ganga Bai knew their motives and informed them of her preordained long life, predicted by the redoubtable Kala Baba the famous astrologer. She also spoke of her fighting spirits and no intentions of an early departure to the swarglok. Her assorted relatives had no alternative but to beat others who paid more visits and tried to be with her on festivals and numerous sradh ceremonies she performed with devotion. They had to be careful and could not take chance with a prospective inheritance of a close kind. Her costly prime property was a powerful magnet, a part of which could be theirs if they play their cards well and become her favorite, being with her when she needs help and advice.
While inclined to be amused, she enjoyed their pampering and attempts to be her favorite darlings. Her bad mood would shoe them out at once and close doors on their faces bluntly.
“I know why you come here; to inspect my decay…. to count number of days to my death? Get out; don’t want to see your greedy faces at all. I am fine and healthy and don’t want to be disturbed. Every time I try to take a nap, tring-tring and there is more one idiot to see if I am dead or not. Where were you all when I fought hundred cases to get this building back inch by inch, room by room, floor by floor?”