Prefaced with an advance apology to Mac.
Some literary licence having been taken, never any offence meant!
1984. Upper Assam. I was at that time the Mistry Sahib (Factory Assistant) on Rajah Ali Estate.
Other than the fact that the Burra Sahib would at regular intervals shake one up with some “earth shattering” issue (earth shattering as defined in ‘his’ book) or the other, those were blissfully peaceful days. Peaceful to the extent that the only ‘idiot box’ we’d ever encountered was the one constructed with good quality timber, firmly lodged between the ears of at least a couple of the venerated gentlemen who made up the planting community.
And then the powers that be went and shattered our serene existence and disrupted our club (the very centre of our existence) life by taking a giant leap towards development by plonking the first TV repeater tower across the Lohit river in Arunachal Pradesh. The upshot being that club evenings ended up with only a couple of die-hards perched on their bar stools having an animated conversation with the bar man, while the rest had all but disappeared from the scene, at home glued to their respective idiot boxes. On days when the avid TV watchers did venture out, the first question each one would ask the other as soon as they stepped into the club was ‘how was your reception today?’ Not that there was much that those folk were watching which would excite anyone with even and ounce of grey matter, because the only response to this all important question was a ‘wow’ or words to that effect and then on the odd day, ‘today my reception was in colour’. Which simply translated into the fact that instead of staring at the usual black & white blizzard on the screen, the snowflakes on that particular day had been viewed in all the colours of the rainbow.
Major excitement which kept the whole of Upper Assam almost agog for the better part of a year!
A year later returning from our annual leave, since we were driving back to Assam from Delhi and had the whole back seat of our trusted Ambassador free and having been told of the major development in entertainment in Assam, my sister gifted us with a 21″ Niki-Tasha colour TV set. We did actually require the whole of the back seat of the car for the 21″ because the cabinet for the TV was about the size of a very large fridge. And so, duly hemmed into the Ambassador with this monster we happily took the usual five day drive back to the estate from Delhi. On arrival in Rajah Ali, the new acquisition was duly placed in one corner of our bedroom.
To bring the system to life, the very next morning the factory head fitter, Naranjan Singh, a wonderful Sikh gentleman who managed to keep the factory running with sheer ingenuity and common sense was given the task of installing the TV antenna in the bungalow backyard. Ever tried to lift up a 20′ length of lead piping with some weight at one end, from the horizontal to the vertical position? If you haven’t, I can tell you from experience that it’s not quite the most easy or pleasant of tasks. The installation took on the air of a rather complex military operation. Accompanied by a barrage of screaming and shouting of instructions, a number of times the pipe with many pairs of strong hands working at it rose to about a 45O angle to only land back on the lawn with a thud. Thrice, when coming back to terra firma during the operation, the antenna lost one prong or the other from its cluster. Since we had no gas welding equipment on the estate, each time it broke, N.Singh would hop on to his scooter and head off to Duliajan, the closest ‘town’ to Rajah Ali. Each trip resulted in the antenna coming back more and more misshapen and with extra bits and pieces of aluminium welded on to hold it together. Regardless and with shouts of achievement we finally had our antenna, atop one full length of 1″ piping, lording over the Rajah Ali Mistry sahib’s bungalow.
The antenna having been duly plugged into our Niki Tasha, surrounded by the whole gang of artisans and workers who had been instrumental in getting the antenna up, when the idiot box was switched on you could have knocked all of us down with a feather because what we got on our screen was an almost crystal clear picture in full blown Technicolor. Not the signs of an impending blizzard which others in the district had been ‘enjoying’ all those months, but an honest to goodness actual TV picture. Much excitement all around followed by tea and samosas for the large gang of achievers!
In course of time word got around that the district had been blessed with a TV which actually ‘worked’! Which, not that this required any prompting, led to an acceleration in what is the usual evening social practice in all planting communities, with many friends and colleagues dropping in to Rajah Ali to spend the evening with us, with the added excitement of watching ‘Chitrahar’ on our fully operational Niki Tasha.
About a fortnight into all this excitement Mac (Mr R.S.Makoll, the Executive Director of Warrens) whose bungalow was about 10Km away on Deohall Estate, decided to bless us with a factory visit. The hour long visit went along totally predictable lines – that nothing at all was up to the mark in the factory. Which berating all Mistry Sahib’s simply took in their stride since nothing ever was up to the mark in any factory. As we stepped out of the factory into the tasting room Mac casually puts an arm around my shoulder and, shifting from English to Punjabi, mentions that he has heard through the grapevine that the TV in my bungalow is functioning in the manner which TVs are designed for and that would it be possible for us to go across to check it out. Which we did. I obviously had no answer as to why our TV should be behaving itself. And so, having checked out everything including the location and the installation of the antenna Mac wanted to know who had been responsible for the installation of the antenna which led to me being requested that I despatch N.Singh to Deohall to wave his magic wand on the E.D.’s bungalow entertainment system.
Next morning N.Singh’s Kamjari (task) was to head off to Deohall with a couple of jugalis (helpers) to do his bit. This was on a Monday. Come Thursday, by which time my CTC rollers had to be changed and a whole lot of other minor issues had to be attended to, I could still see no signs of the gentleman. The line chowkidar (the watchman responsible for ensuring that the factory personnel were on duty) being asked why the Head Fitter was AWOL, told me that as had been happening since Monday, Singh had headed off to Deohall with his jugalis in tow. I was livid at the fact of one day’s work having been stretched into four and so, promptly hopping on to my bike I got to the E.D.’s bungalow in Deohall. Having got the watchman there to find and get hold of the Rajah Ali fitter, N.Singh walked out with an ear to ear grin, looking pleased as punch. I, needless to say, waded into the hapless soul taking him to task for him having been missing all these days. N.Singh’s response being that instead of me blowing my top, would I like to come to the rear of the bungalow to understand why.
Walking across to the bungalow backyard, what I saw left my jaw hanging. In front of me was progeny the parent in Paris would have been proud of, a scaled down replica of the grand Eiffel Tower rising about 20/25′ from the ground. At the top of our very own mini Eiffel Tower was a 20′ lead pipe with a TV antenna perched on the top. Closer inspection showed that the pipe was housed in a large ball bearing and had two prongs attached to the pipe to make a handle, much like a submarine periscope which one had seen in movies, to rotate the antenna to catch transmission airwaves from whichever direction they happened to find their way into the Deohall bungalow backyard.
Finally finding my voice I had only one question for N.Singh – “WHY?”
His response, which I simply adore, has stayed with me all these years. “Makoll Sahib said that if that factory assistant can have an antenna 20′ up, mine has to be at least twice that height!”
The post script to L’affaire á la Eiffel – Regardless of the ‘periscope’ being rotated every which way thorough 360O, the only thing Mac and Dinda (Lovely Mrs Makoll) ever got to see was the usual ‘Upper Assam Blizzard’ albeit, once in a while in full blown colour!