In India, there are times when you can get frustrated, and others when you just have to laugh at the constant absurdity of life here.
About a month and a half ago I wrote about how a leakage from our terrace had caused our downstairs neighbors’ ceiling to collapse. One would assume by now that this entire ordeal would be over, right? Au contraire.
The original work included ripping up the entire side of our porch to get into the piping system. What had been quoted to us as taking a week instead took three. And it wasn’t hard to see why: the workmen would show up two hours late every day; they would then take a two or three hour lunch; in the afternoon one guy would work while the others sat around. And then every night we got the icing on the cake: they would declare that they needed to stay late, because they weren’t finished. I’m sure they saw this as the perfect overtime scam. Unfortunately for them, we would always kick them out.
But after weeks of cement dust in the house and an unusable terrace and cranky workers and shouts about overtime, they were finished. They just had to replace the wooden siding.
Except that the siding they used originally was no longer available. They, of course, hadn’t checked to see whether this was the case prior to finishing. So it took another week to find a solution (they ended up painting siding to try and closely match the original).
I couldn’t have cared less about whether the wood matched the original. I was just happy to have my house back. And I was happy that my neighbors would finally get to replace their ceiling.
So you can imagine my joy when Nigel, the supervisor, knocked on my door a few weeks ago.
“Ma’am, there has been a problem with the construction,” he said, pretending to be nonchalant.
“What kind of problem?”
“Well, there is still some leakage.”
I liked the phrase ‘still some leakage’, as though it implied that something had been done and there was only a little bit left to be fixed. It turned out that they hadn’t really known anything about where the leak was coming from – they had just made a guess and hoped for the best. The guess, shockingly, was wrong.
I made them wait three weeks while Daniel’s parents were here – I wasn’t going to have them come all the way to India and then have to live with construction!
But now the time had come again. This time, I made them bring an engineer with blueprints of the building to try and prove to me that they suddenly understood the problem. They started by pulling up a few tiles to see where the crack in the ceiling really was. Eventually it led to tearing out the whole left side of the terrace.
This time around, I wasn’t going to agree so readily. I tried to ask as many questions as I could to understand the whole process. But the response to every question always somehow included ‘but ma’am, you’re foreign, so you don’t understand the way Indians do things.’
But the joke is on them: we’ve lived here now for almost six months and at least we know how to make a few more demands, Indian-style – we called the head boss and made him come over and speak to his workers; we got a written work plan detailing what needs to be done every day; we’re having someone come from the head office to supervise every day to make sure work gets done; Daniel even got the company to give half the workers wages to him so they have an incentive to finish in time.
And most importantly: I made sure they already had purchased the tiles before they started. For me, that’s progress. A sign that maybe we’re adapting to India a little better than perhaps the construction supervisors would have liked us too.
But of course, I’ve lived here long enough to also know that all of those assurances still will probably mean it will all take much longer than they’ve quoted. Luckily, I’m taking my new Indian self back to America for the holidays – so I luckily won’t be around to see! It’s the best of both my worlds.