I plead innocence to the fact that my rambles are all over the place with my stories taking a huge leap forward from one decade to the next and then rewinding all the way back to the past. The guilty one is my brain which simply refuses to function chronologically. Bottom line being that while in my last tale I had fast forwarded to Sri Lanka and the year 2000, with this one it’s all the way back to 1977 when I had been transferred across the valley from Panniar to Surianalle to be under the watchful eye of the larger than life (speaking both literally and figuratively) personae of Clyde Nigel Mansell Lawrence Esq.
My bungalow in Surianalle was on Gundumallai (the mountain of the rock) division, perched up and literally clinging on to the very steep gradient on which some half-wit idiot way back in the past had chosen to build himself a dwelling. Over the years the howling wind having taken its toll, the roof of the bungalow was constantly on the move, hopping up and down like a yo-yo on a very short thread. But for the fact that the corrugated tin roof was held down by very thick steel hawsers criss-crossing over the top with the ends embedded in concrete blocks on all four sides of the building holding it down on terra firma, the bungalow would have ended up literally blowing its top long before I became the occupant! It was thanks to that added protection, that all night long I was witness to a never ending ding-dong battle. The attack would be initiated by howling wind lifting the roof up a couple of millimetres, after which the stay-wires would counter-attack straining to get the roof back to its pre “attempt-to-take-off” position. One lived with the imminent possibility that some day the wind would come out the winner! The bottom line being that it had been decided by the powers that be that at some point of time, before the roof ended up being ripped off from its moorings, a much needed repair job would have to be undertaken.
That decision came to the fore in the year I found myself in Gundumallai.
Coincidentally or rather deviously planned in that manner by Clyde, he took the decision to have my roof repaired during the time he would be away from the estate on his three month long overseas furlough, which extended leave the expat Superintends were allowed every five years. Devious because, in parallel to the work in my bungalow, he decided to have the flooring of his bungalow upgraded by having the red-oxide coated concrete floor in the bungalow sitting and dining rooms replaced with wooden parquet tiles.
The two repair contract having been awarded and assigned, the crafty Clyde very ‘kindly’ ‘suggested’ to me that since it would be inconvenient for me to be living in Gundumallai while the roof work was in progress, that I should move down to the Superintendents bungalow for the three months that Winnie and he would be away on furlough. As a postscript to the ‘suggestion’ he followed up with “Since you’re going to be living in the bungalow you could also oversee the parquet tile flooring work to ensure that it’s being done properly”.
And so it was that, albeit temporarily, I found myself in the sprawling 8 bedroom PD bungalow which was in the middle of a 5 acre compound. The garden in front was a riot of colours, while the ‘backyard’ of the bungalow was an honest to goodness arboretum complete with a perennial stream flowing through it. While difficult to even imagine, made one wonder whether Clyde & Winnie, hand in hand, went for romantic walks in their private forest. The huge plus point to being the glorified watchman was that I was being attended to by a proper butler with food being dished out by a trained cook who, unlike the lost soul I had to bear up with in my bungalow, actually knew his job. Roasts, scones, cakes, pies, the guy could churn them all out. The long and short of it being that I, a two bit Sinna Dorai temporarily employed as a bloody glorified on-site construction supervisor tasked with keeping a hawks eye on the bosses floor being laid out, was living the good life.
While I was in my rather expansive temporary lodgings, I received a letter from Kitty, my girlfriend of 7 long years since our college days and later my wife, that her parents were planning a trip to Madras to spend some time with friends of theirs and that they had suggested that since they where going to be in the south, they were keen to come across to Munnar to meet me. While unstated, it was obvious that the visit was being made so that the parents could suss out their ‘may be’ son-in-law and to establish what in hell was it that the fellow was doing tucked away in some remote god-forsaken hole which no one up north had any clue about. I was informed that the family would be taking a train from Madras to Madurai and that could I arrange to pick them up from the Madurai railway station on the day they were to get there. The letter also told me that there would be four of them, Kitty accompanied by her parents and her younger sister. There being no way that I could possibly ferry the gang up on my trusty bike, on the day in question I borrowed Lalit Thusu’s (the senior assistant on the estate) Ambassador so as to chauffeur the family up to Surianalle.
While no one has ever shared this in-laws family secret with me, I’ll always maintain that it was my ‘status’ (established by “you should see the bungalow he lives in!”) that literally bowled over my father in law. I’m almost certain, had the gentleman arrived in Surianalle when I was in my actual ‘hanging on to the hillside for dear life’ abode up on Gundumallai, that he would have turned up his nose, laughing at my suggestion that I marry his daughter.
One week and eight bedrooms to frolic around in, post a fancy dinner with all the trappings thrown in, once we had tucked her parents into bed in their allotted bedroom, Kitty and I managed to keep ourselves rather busy.
All too soon the three months wound down, bringing my glorified watchman stint to an end with me handing back the bungalow, complete with a gleaming new parquet flooring, back to its rightful occupant. Having been patted on the back for a job well done, I found myself back in my ‘eagles aerie’ in which, regardless of the repairs having been carried out to it, for the rest of the two years that I was there, the roof continued to keep me awake with its laboured heaving and sighing all night long!