Monday, December 01, 2003

Nuts and Bolts

Ma plaque électrique est en panne. Pas Encore ! Troisième fois!. But thankgod for small mercies. Only one is giving problems. Switch it on and the mains blow off. Water must have leaked into it. It’s right next to the draining board and sink. The rear plaque is working and so I cooked lunch today (Mussoor dal with peppers, south Indian potato and carrot curry, and cabbages with panch phoron) leaning over the front plaque hoping I don’t get electrocuted or something.

And now I must get this whole process rolling to get this problem sorted out. I will have to get in touch with my agence mobilier (house agents) who will take down my problem and call the electrician who will call me and fix an appointment (within this week if I am lucky) and will arrive on the appointed hour and day to not only repair it but also to give the all important pronouncement: Whose fault is it? If it is ours, we pay. If not, the landlord.

Our electrician and general purpose fixer is a Mr C: Stout Frenchman with shinning chubby cheeks, stubby golden hair, round and large blue eyes and is always in a good humour. Should be, he is so very popular. At any point of time, he is fully booked for weeks. The first time we met him was when we had just moved here. All the light fixtures were on the ceiling at the centre of each room and without a staircase, it was very difficult to put the bulbs in. We asked our house agent, the amiable F for help. F not only spoke English, helped us figure out the instructions in French of our television, but also had a brother who goes once in a few years to Benaras to learn the tabla! He adviced us against calling in someone for help since it will cost a lot and we should try do it ourselves.

The only thing on which we could stand up on, was a heavy kitchen chest with a tiled top. We dragged it under the light fixture (not an easy task since it was already full of my crockery and cutlery and was too much of a bother to take it all out) and A stood on it to fix the light bulb. Our bedroom was more difficult since there was no way we could drag the chest over the carpeted floor without ruining it. So, we lugged in a stout armchair, I stood on the hand with A hanging onto my legs and standing on tiptoe, I managed to get the bulb fixed. It took the two out-of- shape middle aged people quite some time to recover only to realise that all was not well. The lights blinked on and off. So, Mr C arrived. The diagnosis (after much miming on our parts since I knew only present and past tense and A could only say Oui Oui vigourously), was that one of the bulb we had bought was faulty. And we had bought a plastic douillet which will melt with the powerful halogen bulbs and would one day go BOOM! And he very kindly fixed everything and changed the douillet and didn’t charge us anything – assume the landlord paid.

Couple of months later, A had gone to London for a night. And that very evening, one of the plaque buttons lost its ‘pyanch’. I couldn’t switch it off. Argh! The only way to do was to switch off the mains. But I was all alone and I didn’t have a torch, not even candles. It was 15 to 8. I rushed to the supermarket to look for candles…what are they called? Chandelles? Found out later that they are colloquially called bougies; Couldn’t find them. My agence immobilier too had closed for the day. Ki KORI???

I stopped panicking and took a deep breath and on the third try, found the fuse for the plaque and switched it off. And then I could switch on the mains again. Bancha gelo. Despite the lights now on, I could fall into an exhausted sleep only at 3am. The creaks and groans of the house kept me awake. Our house, the only apartment block in this residential area full of beautiful bungalows or two or three storey houses, had been a private clinic once. The day we moved in N, scared me by telling me that this was a clinic with the sick and dying and it was better to do some purifying pujo when we move in. Imagine my state if I hadn’t been able to fix the mains.

Mr C came in the morning and fixed the button in two minutes.

After this, he visited us twice more: once very promptly when one of our plaques had to be changed. I noticed that I was getting a tiny but sharp shock every morning when I touched the button to switch it on. At first, I took it to be nothing more than this static problem (how I suffered this winter…nylon stockings and woollen clothes…I was in agony…anything I touched would give me a sharp shock…balustrade of staircase, the over head rods in metro for support, seats; Wow). But no, some water had leaked under the plaque and causing it to give shocks. He replaced the plaque with a new one put the old one into a box and gave it to me saying cadeau and bent down to take one of A’s wine bottles as if in exchange!! (I will give him a cadeau if he arrives in time and fixes it before we leave for India!!).

And the last time, he graced us with his presence was due to a different reason.

In early June, my old pal and buddy SB was going to be here for couple of weeks. I was all excited and doing a general spring cleaning when the shelves in our inbuilt almirah collapsed. This meant, I had to keep all our clothes on the floor in our bedroom, covered with a sheet. All our clothes. A’s and mine including our heavy winter woollens. And SB came, spent two weeks with us and left and the clothes still remained on the floor in an unholy mess shaming the Mrs Domestic Bliss in me to the core.

When we first reported the matter both our agence immobilier and our insurance agents looked incredulous. Why couldn’t we fix it ourselves? Why did we go to them for something so little? After hectic tos and fros, and by now we had discovered office of the elusive Mr C – he and his wife had this electrical supplies’ store. After two months of hectic to-ing and fro-ing on my part, Mr C breezed in one day, took a look and said ‘Pas votre faute’ meaning not our fault (and therefore we didn’t have to pay – just as a precaution, I did put all our heavy coats into a suitcase and out of sight incase he’d think it was our fault, having put too many clothes on the shelves) disappeared and then reappeared after two days (the time it took him to buy sturdy nails) and fixed the shelf up. And left whistling, with àla prochain (till next time). I hoped there wouldn’t be a prochain fois (next time), but here it is again. I went down this morning to our agence immobilier and reported the problem which was duly noted by a smiling and really nice girl who told me Mr C is closed on Monday and therefore will be informed tomorrow. I nipped around to his store and sure enough he was closed (a common practice to be closed on Mondays). So here we go again….

In a few weeks time, we will be leaving for India and will be there for a month during which our mail will be delivered by the facteur of La Poste. A’s newspapers, our bills etc. It will be quite a pile. So what, I hear you think? The lock is broken. No, not broken, its faulty. You can turn the key and yet the door will swing open. So what? Get it fixed! Yes. We would like that. Unfortunately, our serreuier is even more elusive that Mr C. Infact he wins hands down in the stakes of elusiveness. We have reported this problem several time to the house agents who have followed it up with the serreuier but he hasn’t shown up yet. Its been 1 and a half years since we have moved in and had the problem with our post box!! The post boxes are all inside the building and quite secure. Anyone entering needs either a key or some onto buzz them in. When we go for short trips, we sellotape our post box shut. Guess we will be using stronger scotch tape this time.

I do miss the simple systems we had in Kolkata. Missing key, broken lock, faulty connection, gas leak whatever the problem….Call up or send some one down to the para’r electric shop and within minutes Jadab or Manik will come and fix the problem and will say ‘jaa ichey deen naa’ when asked about the charge.

La vie maybe belle ici, mais La vie was definitely ‘plus facile’ in Calcutta!!

Glossary French Words
Ma plaque électrique est en panne – My electric plate is not working .
Pas Encore - Not again
Troisième fois – third time
Agence immobilier – house agent
Cadeau - gift
Facteur – postman / woman
La Poste – French Postal system
Sereuier – locksmith
La vie – Life
Belle – beautiful
Ici- here
Plus facile – more easy
Douillet – er…the thingie that goes behind a bulb

Glossary Bengali Words
Jadab or Mallik – common bengali names akin to Tom, dick
Para – neighbourhood
Panch Phoron – Bengali 5 spice
jaa ichey deen naa – give (pay) whatever you want to
Bancha gelo – saved
Pujo - prayer

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