This last Tuesday I made a one-day trip to Simla. Wednesday was all about dealing with a plumber who, with all the angular neck movement, could not locate where the leak in the faucet was; a carpenter without his tools, but with his whip-smart calculations presenting an estimated bill, which to my mind, was good enough to build an all sheesham cottage on a hilltop; and a contractor looking as if the building, which was in some state of disrepair, had to be dolled up so as to chronicle some theme wedding. All of them with their assistants in tow doing the hip-hop. Jumping like monkeys on cloud nine going in for the kill. Ah, yes, then the property dealer who had some prospective tenants who would, but of course, double-up as chowkidaars, thus not necessitating the services of a caretaker; “a real meal deal combo”, money for its worth. (His words, not mine.) The realtor making me go up and down from one floor to the other, like a mountain goat jangling a cluster of keys, inspecting the premises with exacting eyes, crediting the debit side with more “hits” to which once-upon-a-time was known as a home, but now referred to, as an apathetically built building. (An aside: my relationship with keys and locks remains a distant one. And would someone please throw light on the matter, why in Simla, most of the locks stocked by your nearby or far-away shopkeeper go by the name Naylex, look identical and so one has an uphill time singling out one from the other.
One either ends up noting the fine-print numbers, jotting them down on a mobile that has taken to fast emptying its battery every time one goes into Memo to Self “Notes”. Right this moment, making a mental note to procure a dozen heterogeneous locks to saw off the homogenous ones on my next trip. However, given the cut-from-the-same-cloth current climate, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee cultivation, soon there will be a blanket ban on the undifferentiated. This has spilled into a sky-scraping tangent!) With what was transpiring, my legs wished metal rods would be miraculously fitted in, so as to stand without achingly wobbling, hanging on with, how is it put, by the skin of one’s teeth, to the comforting thought that come dawn, would be seated in the car—shoes atypically kicked off—ready to welcome the heat and dust of Delhi.
Thursday morning could not come soon enough, and I found myself smugly seated with unlaced walking shoes and a pillow fluffed-up against the shoulders, finally exhaling. Ten minutes into the journey, which happens to begin with a keen, on-the-nose-descent, bouncy policewallahs stop our car ahead of which a long, unruly row had already been halted. All bearing non-Himachali number plates. Aah tourist season, so it was time to get to work. For years I have termed it as “negative work”! Such frisky, high-spirited movements—waving batons, blowing whistles, bodily barricading vehicles. My driver was ordered to show all the car papers, his license slapped out of a hand that had barely tugged it out of his wallet. How was it that we were declared defaulters, or is culprits the better description, before anything was amiss? A beefy cop barking high-octane orders—crudely crumpling all the chosen vehicles’ registration papers etc. etc. in his bulky hands, would put a school headmaster’s confiscation facility to shame. Challans were being issued and a Magistrate, wearing a crow-black coat, with a makeshift office in the middle of the drooping road, mind you, was to decide whether one was fit to travel or not. An indignant me, lacing up my shoes too tight for comfort, got out of the car, slamming the door behind me. It would have been fine if the law enforcement department were stopping automobiles to check if drugs were being carted away, and it would be cheering, in a roll-out-the-red-carpet way, to see them neurotically inspecting all brought-to-a-brake carriages for cannabis, marijuana and what-not, to be impounded!
All residents of Simla seem to have accepted that the Queen of Hills has become the Kingpin of Drugs… The Cabbie will tell you, without a care, that so many school kids, not even in their teens, are dopeheads. Does the police do nothing, one dumbly asks? Druggies outnumber Pol-eese, pat comes the elementary, plain-sailing explanation. Over tea at many a neighbour’s there will be some up-in-the-air talk, about how ganja grows freely, and so it’s the easy availability that has potheads, in a trance-like-stupor roaming the roads. Should we not think of setting aflame such fields? This soon forgotten when the tea trolley wheels in, laden with a melange of finger sandwiches, apple tarts, fried cashews rolled in black salt, burfi and mini roly-poly gulab jamuns with chai. Is gluttony not one of the seven deadly sins? The clock has a way of ticking by without giving an advance notice. Back to the stalled cars. In this case, an anti-pollution certificate was unreadable so a penalty of 1,000 rupees had to be coughed up. Little point in pointing out that the heat had made the document perspire. Before the money had to be slid into a tin box, the Magistrate’s signatures were required. There he was signing away, threatening one whining, pleading person, that if came forth another whimper, he would double the fine. Now whoever had authorised him to do so? When, at last, my turn came (what happened to a ladies line?) he inscribed his autograph across the “defaulting details” rendering it indecipherable.
Nine hours later, when the car fragrant with apples fresh from the trees, pulled into Delhi’s airless heat, I, for the first time did not miss the fuming mountains!
Dr Renée Ranchan writes on socio-psychological issues, quasi-political matters and concerns that touch us all