There stood this beautiful, crumbling stately home, with its impressive pillars, its arches, its filigreed windows dangling on missing hinges, its huge doorway of weathered wood that creaked with age.
The architecture was indeed unique, as over time the different owners had imposed their own tastes & ideas of beauty.
A commanding structure no doubt, three stories high was now rooted in a square of dilapidation, of broken roads, pavements, overflowing drains, strewn plastic & sub human hovels.
A travel writer had described this edifice as a once beautiful woman, of great culture & breeding, holding her tattered clothing & clinging to the last vestiges of her dignity.
On The Ground-Floor resided families which had till recently lived outside under asbestos sheets.
Through sheer dint of hard work, sacrifice & a deep desire to improve the lot of their children these men & women had done their damnedest to move into the security of The Mansion, even if was into postage stamp, cheek to jowl apartments.
Electricity was in short supply.
Water was rationed.
LPG cylinder was prized.
But washed, bathed, well turned out children with full stomachs left with heavy school bags every morning, hoping to fulfil their parent’s dream of moving up to The First-Floor.
Sitting in the kitchen, eating mother’s dal, sabzi, garam rotis & rice they watched TV commercials of fair, beautiful children enjoying pizzas, nonchalantly tossing their soiled football & cricket clothes in for a machine wash.
On The First-Floor resided people whose parents & grandparents before them had spoken the language of The Mansion owners & gone to school with them.
Private elevators had been carved out from one corner of the building & only if they weren’t functioning for some reason did these people take the stairs & come face to face with The Ground-Floor.
Now these First-Floor lived the life of TV commercials…. Large, open, airy apartments with flat screens, every possible appliance, house help that left the mother with the choice of going out to work or a coiffed, manicured lady of leisure & father proud of his latest Sedan for city driving & SUV for the hill holidays.
No doubt generations had worked hard to reach here but the tragedy was that they aspired for their children a foreign education & a good job in some advanced, civilized country.
One of the reasons being, they feared The Ground-Floor outnumbering & overtaken them.
The swish lifestyle, however, was found on The Top-Floor with its wide picture windows opened out to vistas of the city was nothing like the other two.
The chaos below could not even be seen, less imagined.
Treetops, beautifully lit monuments, could be enjoyed from the terrace gardens & the helipad on the roof allowed one to avoid the traffic & get to the airport & to any part of the world as one desired.
The Mansion was beautiful on this floor with no sign of decay or deterioration.
Miraculously everything was in plenty here. Electricity, water, food….
Where else could you get two stories of people working under you, for you?
In time the tinkling laughter, the signs of good life with the flash of money from The Top-Floor became irksome to the others.
~How come they had all the amenities when Ground Floor & First Floor were also contributing towards the upkeep of the premises? ~
~Why was The Top Floor always in charge? ~
~Why did they think they knew best & never once even heard what the others had to say? ~
~By the way, how do they have all this money? ~
So, when the rumblings of complaints first began The Top-Floor was most surprised.
~But it’s always been like this. What has changed?!~
~With your contribution we fixed your water & electricity supply from two hours to four (& pocketed the rest) ~
~To cut off the draft we promised you new windows (but instead repaired the old ones) ~
~Surely, something is better than nothing~
~Yes, you wanted the area around The Mansion cleaned & cleared up but we are still waiting for an estimate of works (that concedes to our sweat money demand) ~
~Stop complaining! Come on you are much better off than those in the hovels~
But among themselves, later on, enjoying their lush terrace gardens, nibbling at canapes, they said
~ It’s that education. They’ve begun to think. To question ~
~ First it was satellite TV & now Social Media. it’s opened up a whole new world & The Ground-Floor has the temerity to think they can have it too ~
The First-Floor was a bit confused.
Things were good but yes, they could be much better. It would be so nice to have a clean, working Mansion with opportunities here so that our children didn’t have to leave. The Top Floor made everything sound a big favor. Even clean air.
But many among them knew exactly where they stood.
They were known as -Play Your Cards Right (PYCR)
PYCR & the left-over bottles of champagne were sent down to savor.
PYCR & you could be invited to the top floor every now & then.
PYCR & you could be the right-hand man or woman to someone on The Top Floor.
However, the interesting part of the story actually begins the day The Man knocked on the door of The Mansion.
~Give me the responsibility~ he said.
~ I can fix this place for you but I will need your support. However, I promise you a better life, opportunity & progress for all. ~
When the other floors heard about this stranger they laughed.
~Who is he? ~
~What is his background? He didn’t go to the schools & colleges we went to? He can’t even speak English. ~
~But why would you need English to fix a house. We understand him and that’s enough~ thought The Ground-Floor
~ He has a reputation of having fixed another house, smaller one, no doubt. But he did a good job of it ~
The Top Floor then got a PYCR to spread the word that The Man was unreliable, a crook of questionable pedigree and would bring down The Mansion.
The long & short of it is that The Man won the contract to repair & fix the edifice.
He had all the support of The Ground-Floor & the ones on The Second-Floor who looked forward to improvement & change.
The rest however were openly hostile & worked towards his failure.
Why would one want to change a good thing?!!
~Here is the team I shall lead but before we embark on this monumental work lets invoke God’s name with an Aarti in the Central Courtyard~
The hush that spread for a second was replaced with a gasp
The Top-Floor watched the excitement on the lower floors with a disconnect & smirked ~Regressive plebeians! So, it’s going to be repainted, refurbish renovate? We thought it was going to be new-new? ~
It began slowly.
Testing load-bearing walls, beams & columns, old wiring, rotting pipes & then the plans were drawn up.
~The last team you gave the job to took you for a ride my friends. The foundations are hollow with substandard workmanship & material. What is worse is that termites have found their way in !!~
But the real shock came when the Municipality rejected the plans.
~Why? How? ~
The Top-Floor used PYCRs to do the job.
~Scuttle it~ they ordered. And scuttled it was!
The doubts then crept in.
~Was it a good idea to give The Man such a humungous task? Shouldn’t we have gone with the last one, at least he knew the lay of the land? ~ were some of the whispered conversations on The First-Floor.
The Man, however, carried on with the task on hand till the first changes became visible on The Ground-Floor.
Cleaner streets, repairs, electricity water & gas & an App where you could directly complain if the services were not up to the mark, eliminating the favors and the begging one was accustomed to.
Some dared take the elevator up to The Top-Floor.
Banging on their doors, till they were opened they quietly told the shaken Top -Floor.
~We know what you did & you will pay for your crimes. The law will catch up with you but for now – no one can stop us from returning The Mansion to its past glory~
Frantic calls were made to PYCRs.
~Do something! Spread rumors! Destroy his credibility. Stop his work……!
Five years later two floors of The Mansion were exponentially changed. So much had happened but the best part is- so much more could happen. The hope was infectious & the mood catching.
The structure has withstood termites, mild earthquakes & even an attack from its envious neighbors. The innards of the building, its brick, and mortar, its plumbing and wiring are being changed, renewed so that it can withstand the future.
The residents are standing up for what they believe, giving feedback, questioning what they feel is wrong …. a secure home does instill confidence after all.
And as they say ~ Rome was not built in a day but every day, with every hand.