Dr. M’s Problem
I recently approached the eminent historian Dr. M, to ask a history question. But she said she was too busy with a major problem. It turned out that her problem was something that our civilization has battled for ages: the maid-servant did not turn up for work!
My wife Anu, who is arguably less eminent, had the same problem. She phoned me and exclaimed: “Viji (the maid-servant) is threatening to resign!”
Me: “Resign from what— I thought she was just the Guest Faculty?”
Anu: “Listen. You know the backyard veranda— where she washes things. The floor is broken and is full of creepy-crawlies. She is worried that they may bite and kill her.”
Me: “If creepy-crawlies bite her, they are the ones who should be worried”
Anu: “Be serious. I want you to attend to this. NOW.”
I called Nari-Contractor who generally contracts Civil Repair jobs. (I wonder, though, what is “civil” about house repair. It is as uncivilized as it gets!) A truly ‘professional’ contractor considers it infra-dig to handle just one problem, so he expands the scope. Nari-Contractor was very professional, of course. He suggested that if we raise the level of the backyard veranda, rainwater would stagnate in the driveway. He said “the driveway has become uneven and I bet you were wanting to fix it anyway, right? It is best you raise the driveway too.” And just so that the water does not stagnate at the sides, he said he could raise a pathway around the house at a ‘minimal cost’. Seemed reasonable, so I said, yes. In a remarkable coincidence, the quote he gave me matched the price of the latest Maruti that he planned to buy!
As we were raising our all-round standard of living thus, a new problem arose. When they dug the sides for paving, Nari-Contractor very dutifully noticed that the rainwater harvest piping had collapsed and had to be replaced. Not merely that: the original collection pits were ‘wrongly’ designed and needed restructuring for real harvest. We cannot be ecologically irresponsible,can we? So I said— yes, of course. It never worried me that there are no rains to harvest in ‘Namma Chennai’.
The project was becoming more complex, so I inducted my son (an Engineer with construction experience). Nari-Contractor and my son had detailed technical discussions and concluded that the cracks in the house must be eliminated. This worried my wife seriously: she realized that even though I was a bit of a crack, she had grown fond of me over the years. Mercifully, the above-mentioned cracks were on the walls and had no connection whatsoever with the inmates. I wanted to postpone this expense, but they said “now that the problem of water stagnation has been addressed, the shifting of subterranean soil has been closed. This is the opportune time to deal with cracks”. So I said, why not?
Nari Contractor knew an excellent Tile Master and we could also replace the old mosaic with pseudo-marble at a ‘very reasonable’ cost. “Then, you don’t have to worry about it for the next 15 years”. This was reassuring, since I was only worried about raising the money needed in the next 15 days!
At the height of our operations the Ambattur Times sent a photographer. It seems a photo of our house was just the thing needed for their story on war-torn Syria! Which brought us to a new situation— we needed to paint the place all over again. Anu chose a shade called “Fantasy in Blue”. It didn’t look blue at all and perhaps that was where the fantasy kicked in. When I paid up, I discovered that its name in the company catalogue was “Deeply in the Red” !
The Final Solution
Eureka! I have arrived at a predictive model for estimating final repair costs from initial contractor quotes.
R = 3(i) + π(Oc) -√(Oc) +Ψ
R =Final Repair Cost
i = Initial quote by contractor
Oc = Original Construction cost of house
Ψ = Divine constant — a.k.a. Kismet
Oh, you still want to know the question that I wanted to pose to Dr. M, the Historian? My question was “Why did the Mayans of Central America abandon their homes in the 10th Cent. AD, at the very height of their civilization?”
I never had an opportunity to raise this question to her again, but I figured out the answer myself. Very simple, really. They just could not afford the bloody Repair and Maintenance costs!