Among the very many advantages of living in a metropolitan city like Chennai is the fact that you get a chance to write sentences that begin like ‘Among the very many advantages of living in a metropolitan city like Chennai’.
Ha, ha, ha, there I go again with typical nonsense. How can there be any advantage in a city like Chennai, which till this date is not even sure of its real name and whose main river is nothing but a mucky sewer line? But even the harshest of critics of Chennai will accept that it offers plenty of unique experience, and one of them obviously being life in high-rise multi-resident apartments that somehow manage to come up on places that were previously home to single, simple houses.
When top-heavy line of flats erupts in locations, which were essentially serviced by facilities meant for a single house, only confusion and complexity ensue. Probably that is why they call it as ‘apartment complex’.
But there are many hardened souls who manfully go out of their way, take time off from their regular jobs to tackle the every-day issues that confront every apartment complex and make them more difficult so that they become raging issues dangerous enough to trigger a World War (neighbourhood version).
The men who perform this thankless task of converting every neighbour into a sworn enemy make up the residents association that are deemed mandatory by the law because it couldn’t think up anything worse.
Let’s delve deep into this fascinating set-up that make up the major chunk of life in a metro.
The president of a flat association is in most cases a ponderous old person who tries to speak in English to an audience, which also insistently attempts English despite the fact that English is not the natural tongue to either of them even in their vaguest dreams.
For reasons that cannot be fathomed by normal human reasoning, the bulk of association meetings are carried out in a manner and language wherein a speaker tries to convey something, the listeners understand something else while the actual and real meaning of the words spoken being not even remotely linked to both. And this is why there is not one even issue that has been resolved by flat associations to the utmost satisfaction of the residents.
The responsibilities of the president of the flat association are varied, and all of them involve conveying in clear terms to all concerned that his responsibilities are many.
For shouldering this work, the president enjoys many privileges in an apartment complex, the chief of which being the elaborate and starchy salute by the security man at the gate. This salute is at the core of the national work ethic, which is evolved out of the most basic of management principles: The man who has the highest chance of deciding your pay deserves the highest gratification. This is how office bosses get to be respectfully addressed publicly as ‘sirs’ while in real conversations between workers they get referred to with funny and derogatory nicknames. For the record, I am called a ‘crack’, an inelegant but obvious pun on this column. It’s a different matter that I have been known this way much before this column was even an idea in my mind.
He is the backbone of any association and provides the vital support to the president by being his sole talking companion before any meeting starts, which needless to say is a full 45 minutes or more behind the scheduled time. Apparently it is a cardinal sin, punishable perhaps by flogging, to begin any meeting on time. If all the hours that are spent waiting for the meeting to begin could be actually converted into money, it will amount to something that even Bill Gates or Sultan of Brunei cannot aspire for.
In the fullness time, the secretary and president, from being bosom buddies, reach a stage when they can’t speak a sentence to each other that does not involve a questionable reference to the other’s parentage. In comparison to association meetings, Parliament sessions are droll gatherings of Rotary or Free Masons.
What role does a vice-president play? His function is as vital and strategic to the association as is that of the country’s Vice-President who has the onerous job of being the Vice-President.
The other important task of the association vice-president is to sit in the dais and seem extremely interested during meetings though he is at liberty to fantasize about a nubile actress, something which the other office-bearers are known to cheerfully involve themselves in.
The Finance Minister of the Association, except the fact that flat associations mostly don’t have any money, a reality that you will become insistently aware of whenever you strike a conversation with a treasurer, as the only thing he is programmed to speak is: ‘there are no funds’.
Resident: Mahatma Gandhi was born on October 2.
Treasurer: But I tell you, there are no funds.
These sensible and helpful group works in close coordination to think up various problems to existing solutions. It is required by Constitution for them to turn up late for meetings and complain that no work is being completed on time.
Residents also lend their expertise in spreading good cheer by floating wonderful stories about how association office-bearers are swindling money, which, needless to say, are not paid by the residents in the first place.
Among the very many tricks up his sleeve, the most often conjured up is his unmatched ability to vanish, almost from the face of earth, at the precise moment when his presence is required.
This is a trick that he seems to have picked up from the local MLA. Or it could be vice-versa too.
This is a man with an enormous fetish to change the foot-valve. He will offer this advice even if you were just asking the directions for the nearest temple. Air-lock is another of his favoured usage. You take out foot valve and air-lock from his lexicon, you would have virtually made him a tongue-less individual.
Like electrician, he too is prone to do the vanishing trick. But he will eventually turn up to, well, change the foot valve.
Apart from reserving the sturdiest of salutes for the president, this otherwise surly, morose man’s work is to strike convivial conversations with all the maidservants and the wife of the resident laundry man. Running errands for residents, procuring household items for them in nearby markets are his areas of specialization.
He has faithfully modelled his main operation on the lines of Shivraj Patil, the former Home Minister who could be trusted to look extremely saddened and perturbed whenever something went wrong, which was frequently. Security men at apartment complexes have the uncanny knack of catching, no not thief, but a glimpse of the intruder when he is escaping.