There are two types of folks.
Those who make other people dance to their tunes. And those who dance to other peoples tunes. And between the guru-style and dancer-style attitudes, lie those , who keenly observe human nature, become great judges of people, and benefit, often in tangible ways.
Padmaja was to come live in the building. Those who didn't know her , welcomed the news. Those who did know her, raised their eyebrows and wondered what kind of a response, the falling standards of maintenance of the building ostensibly due to lack of funds (we live in institutionally owned residences), would evoke from her.
They soon heard.
From the unending lines of carpenters , masons, plumbers, electricians, painters, helpers, and assorted supervisory types who appeared with regularity, with a permanent disapproving frown on their qualified visages. Here was something taking place for months after the allotment took place. Typically, an apartment was checked, repaired wherever required, declared fit for human habitation, and only then allotted through a list.
Once in a while, an open door would reveal folks standing inside , inspecting stuff, then a lady's voice expressing voluble disapproval, some discussion , and the drilling, and banging and whizzing would start all over again.
Finally after 4 months of this the people moved in.
I went on a welcome visit.
Not yet clear as to who was welcoming who.
There was a palpable sense of superiority pervading everywhere. It almost felt, it was like going from my grad school university apartment , say, to the White House.
Residents of such houses also live that image. At any time, you expect a royal flick of a wrist followed by a raised eyebrow, downward look , intriguing in its obliqueness. You can almost see the ants in the balcony scurrying for cover. And the children of the family never leave their school books in the living room.
There were massive changes to the place, which I had hoped for , only in my dreams. Never had the guts to realize those dreams, due to the awareness that this was not my own home, and I couldn't demand stuff which would cost the exchequer so much.
She showed me around and I truly admired the stuff, as well as her capacity to get these things done.
" I don't care. I cant cook here. It is SO hot. And what kind of an exhaust fan is that ? I just told them , I am not going to tolerate this. They can come stand there when I am cooking and notice the heat. Stupid ventilation. Then I got all this plumbing shifted out of here. Even within the bathrooms I had them shift the sink. And you know what, there simply isn't a proper place to place my AC's. I have now asked them to change these cupboard doors. Simply disgusting. And I have asked them to plan for an additional limb of the L of the kitchen counter ....... "
The house would have made it to the Interiors magazine. The expense would have been borne by the Institute that owned the building. Stupid and dense folks, like your truly do not realize that placing orders for stuff tends to warm a lot more pockets, than the vendor's.
And then there is Veena. The apartment she has, earlier housed a family with 3 children. The fixtures around the house show appropriate wear and tear. The house gets painted officially, once in 6 years , and she will tolerate certain rain-based automatic artwork appearing on the walls, till her turn comes. It's possible to hide that with book cases and wall hangings. She has got some extra electrical fittings installed in her house at her own cost. One of the sinks is developing a leak. But it is in one of the bathrooms, so she isn't unduly concerned. (Indian middle class bathrooms do not resemble rooms for relaxing, and in particular, it isn't the custom to have mats on the floor. The cool floor is more more pleasant, in a hot and searing Mumbai. )
She has asked for some repair work on some kitchen shelves. Three fellows have come to have a look and gone. She will wait for a while and then make that phone call to someone, one level above the fellows. And yes, her kitchen is identical to Padmaja's in size and shape, but she has installed a ceiling fan to cool herself on sweaty occasions in front of the stove, as she wipes her face with her saree end, and tries to fan herself with the same. There is a sense of staying within some kind of vaguely defined limits. There seems to be less of "I want" and more of "We'll try"....
The women who come to help in the housework in both these houses, have been coming to my house for years. Long before they started there.
So I get to hear all such things, about new arrivals, possible departures, highhandedness , troublesome ladies, nice ladies, sweet children, quirky children, and all sorts of stuff, when they finish their work at my place and sit down to have a cuppa. These ladies have worked for years in the building. Seen lots of occupants come and go. I am more or less a permanent fixture, at least for another few years. And it is very interesting to listen to these women, who haven't changed an iota, as they wander through grand and not so grand and even simple houses, in the building, doing basically the same type of work.
Padmaja is ambitious. She demands and gets what she wants. She couldn't care less what it costs as she isn't paying. But things must befit what she considers her "status". She doesn't bother about antagonizing anybody else, unless it is someone that will matter to her husband's career. I guess that part is true the world over. There is a distinct sense of me-up-here-you-wallowing-there when you deal with her. But her house impresses the hell out of first time visitors.
Veena, comes across as a very friendly lady. Fairly firm about what she wants, but not about to get into a traumatic dither if it doesn't happen. That's life. She will think several times about demanding something in her house that other flats are not provided with. She is probably more amenable to the entire building getting together, discussing and asking for something to be done, formally, so that the changes are done as a policy decision rather than a personal favour. In a closed society, everything she does reflects the quality of the act on her husband, and she is very very careful.
But it also means that occasionally some family visitors will remark on the bad upkeep of the building. Hint that her contemporaries are into getting interiors "done up" . But like Padmaja, she is a strong lady. Unlike Padmaja, she keeps to the straight and narrow path, enjoying the grass and flowers as she continues to see the far away stars only in her dreams.
Both ladies follow a lifestyle. The ethics of it all, is something that families pick up as they observe and imbibe from the attitudes, and the process of living. It is possible that in today's world, it helps to be a Padmaja. On the other hand, I would hate it if I had to go through life following norms and standards fixed by others, who possibly have no work and lots of free time. Being a Veena won't get you any prizes anywhere. But it will teach you to learn to live within your means, and avoid, what maybe called a hankering lifestyle. Which, again, in today's world , may or may not be considered smart.
Padmaja or Veena. One who enjoys guru-gestures in the dance of life, and the other, who quite simply, enjoys the dance, broken stage and all.
While i can make a quick and fast choice here, I wonder what people think....