This is on my mind:
“Today was going to be different in the house on the corner of the crossroads opposite the markets and a few feet away from one of South Calcutta’s busiest nursing homes.
It had held on to its original form from the mid fifties. Cement down pipes climbed up, down and sideways all over the side walls. A raised band curved around the tops of each of the rounded balconies and wrapped around the house underneath them as well. It was echoed by raised circles around the port hole shaped windows along the stairwells on each floor and the windows that allowed air and light into the rooms. These windows had rounded corners as well, true to the spirit of the Art Deco style of architecture that had once been so popular across the world. A lot of local people called the house Jahaj bari or Ship House. Strangler fig seedlings had sprouted in the corners of some of the down pipes. These opportunistic inhabitants grew a few feet each year during the rainy season, making the house look more ship wreck than ocean liner, until it was autumn and the real owners of the house got busy with preparing for the arrival of guests from other parts of the country and overseas. The man who cleaned the wet areas of the house all year was then commissioned to clamber up the pipes with a chopper tucked into his waist band and a bottle of muriatic acid. He did what he could, reaching across from the chajjas, cutting the wild figs down but never quite removing them. Various family members stood on the receding ground and shouted instructions at him, all of which urged him to do his job properly. He ignored the cacophony and concentrated on not falling. Once the greenery had been hacked back to the satisfaction of those on the ground, he was then guided by their voices in the pouring of acid on the stumps in a mistaken belief that this would kill the plants for good. As he did this, he silently cursed the advisers and hoped that the tables would turn on them one day. Once the bottle was empty and most of the acid was dribbling down the white washed walls, he had to hold it out overturned in his hand before everyone was satisfied. The children watched, fascinated as the last drop of acid fell interminably slowly, down to the ground where it sat till it evaporated. The excitement was over for another year as far as they were concerned. One or two of the more adventurous among them always secretly hoped for Vishnu to lose his footing or at least find an anaconda curled up in the lush jungles of the serpentine sewerage bends. But that had not happened yet. As they went inside, Vishnu climbed back to terra firma and said to the maids who were frisking the cut branches for green figs to take home and cook for their families, ‘I wish the paunchy eldest brother would do this once. They would never dare to ask me again. I have never seen such a miserly bunch of people!’ But they never took their eyes from their task. He would grunt at the injustice of it all and retie his short checked loincloth, pick up his enormous spiky broom and wash his hands and legs before putting the glass bottle into an old stained bucket under the back steps to be sold at the end of the month to the kagojwalla or paper collector along with old papers, cardboard boxes and other oddments.
But as I said, today was going to be different from those days.”