The kar sevaks climbed purposefully. From the terrace, they lassoed the rubber and lead pipes that encircled the structure—and pulled. With a hammer, they broke all the corner joints systematically. The old pipes cried out in pain, their tears streaming down unabashedly. The trees that had for years looped gaily over the terrace had to make their own tiny sacrifice too— what’s a few dead limbs for a new neighbourhood? In the distance, there was a dull rhythmic thud. Who knew the nature of the destruction on the other side? Our view of her was PG’d by the dimensions of our kitchen window.
Rip the pipes, now their tears had run dry. The granite cutter banshee screamed in the distance. Some day in the near future she would come here too. When we were looking for an apartment in Bandra last year, we were clear we wanted to steer clear of this metal mouth monster. “Impossible,” the real estate agent had said, “there’s construction everywhere.” Then we found an apartment with a view. You could see her left profile from the kitchen window. She really was pretty, her art deco curves flanked by wave patterns, and those suns on her terrace railings. The landlord said she was embroiled in a dispute, she wasn’t going anywhere.
But one year later, all parties had come to an agreement. “Haath se todenge (They’ll break it with their hands),” the watchman told us.
Some pipes were being difficult, rebellious; one kar sevak (actually, I think they call them construction workers—they form a large chunk of the 31 million people in the industry that’s building our new India) had to jump on to a parapet and hammer the delinquents.
The drainage pipe that took pride in standing ramrod straight, despite its generous girth, just needed a few thwacks to send it keeling. The men had got into the rhythm of their work now, and their merry exchanges were punctuated with mother/sister remembrances. One smart soul had a brainwave, heaving the dismembered drainpipe against the outer walls of the structure. But the pipe and wall had lived cheek-to-cheek for so many years now, the former certainly wasn’t going to give it her best shot, and the man soon gave up.
The house was stripped of all pipes now. The real action hadn’t even begun and I couldn’t watch any more. That evening, I walked past the front of the house.
She wasn’t a Jinnah or a Cama but she was clearly art deco, built in the 1940s (my favourite decade—the freedom struggle, beautiful Hindi film music, curls were in) by a far-thinking gent with a robust family of anglers. Back then, he drew a plan of four separate apartments, two on each floor, on either side of a central staircase—one of them was now a gaping hole. She was the only house in the lane with no name, just a three-digit number etched in cement. The owners were no more, their children and grandchildren had long flown out of the neighbourhood, one daughter was even a call centre operator in the City of Sails.
By dinner, there was no sound from my kitchen window. The road gang had turned in early.
Next morning, the dull rhythmic thuds were working in serious harmony. The sounds came from the pit of the house. Except for a lone soldier who was banging his Thor-sized hammer against the first floor balcony, they were probably working from the inside out.
They had come all the way from Uttar Pradesh, and naïve me, it must be that ugly 15-year-old memory but I thought it would all be over in one day. Of course, this was only a tiny bunch of humble construction workers (although I’ve heard it’s the hottest job in our metros). Poorly paid, by the hour, and why hurry it up when you know you’ll get shelter in her more-comfortable-than-you’ll-ever-know belly for as long as she stands. It was going to be a slow death—a fortnight if she was lucky.
If marriage is institutionalized sex, perhaps a large part of construction work these days is institutionalized violence? A group of men, a few crude weapons and one defenceless senior...send them to Bandra, direct them to the still quiet tree-lined lanes where builders wait in line to move in on the next family who wants to move out (or up). After all, there’s nothing like pulling down an art deco building or two to satisfy the developed soul.
The next day, there were three people working on the rear balcony. The sides of the balcony fell fast even as the doors bravely watched themselves lead to nowhere. When I next looked—it had become my new sick obsession, recording the death of a one-year-old neighbour—the balcony (and its doors) was gone. Still, two days later, if I were a stranger looking through my kitchen window gazing at her almost intact profile, I would think she was just another gone-to-seed beauty nobody got excited by any more.
But a few days later, she was seriously injured. They had hammered through the terrace and now sunlight streamed through the gaping head wound and shone out of the windows below.
Actually, with all those crores floating around in the city—just the other day, a three-bedroom on a crowded intersection was advertised for Rs15 crore—I’m surprised no one wanted an elegantly-crafted piece of the past. Couldn’t someone have given her a second life? She could easily have been a trendy world cuisine restaurant. A store selling natural-only products or furniture sourced from Indonesia. A day spa or a coffee shop. A playschool even. But then that would have really killed her.