Fire and Flood

The cheap clay parrot that I bought almost 20 years ago on a footpath in Delhi, I think, broke yesterday. Its head had an inquiring tilt that I liked very much. Lakshmi says that I can find another one near the Velankanni Church, or in Mylapore near the temple – where vendors sell trinkets to pilgrims. But the parrots that I have seen lately have been made of plastic.

Slightly higher up the scale of Disasters, domestic: Divali was last week. For most Hindus, it’s the major festival of the year. It means lights, and fireworks, and new clothes, and sweets. In our house we had a kind of anti-Divali. First, two days before, there was a terrible power surge. It damaged or destroyed many of our electric appliances (fridge, DVD player, printer etc.) … light bulbs that weren’t even switched on exploded with loud bangs and flame.

The day after Divali, there was a terrific - and rare - thunderstorm. Our gardener, who was supposed to keep leaves clear of the downspouts, hadn’t, so water built up in the terrace as in a shallow swimming pool, then burst inside and poured down the stairs like a waterfall.

The man who had repaired the fridge said that we needed a stabiliser, and that he could supply it to us. We agreed and he installed something that, in retrospect, was grossly underpowered, and made of an inflammable plastic. Two days after the flood, I heard loud banging noises once again, went to the kitchen and found the stabiliser burning like a torch and emitting heavy, tarry smoke. I ran back to where Ramesh was sitting and shouted, “The stabiliser is on fire! Do something!” Which he did. It wasn’t the way I had imagined myself responding to an emergency. I did better with the flood, giving more specific orders to the staff and throwing buckets of water over the parapet, as though we were sinking.

In short, we feel somewhat as though a cement mixer has been dropped on our hearts.

It’s hard to feel sorry for oneself these days, when so many terrible things are happening in the world. But I managed it by remembering a Gujarati poem, the gist of which is: When the sun, which seems so enormous, is a speck in a sky full of stars, who can say that the lamp in one’s house is not the sun’s equal?

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