I’ve just recovered from a plumbing experience that turned out to be, all things considered, in the final analysis, at the end of the day, reasonably and comparatively non-stressful

So you’re waiting for the plumber to make an entrance. Heh-heh-heh. Note the spelling. I did not say hyuk-hyuk, which would be a taunting snigger. I am merely laughing gently, kindly, almost pityingly, at your naivete. You actually expect him to walk onstage on cue, do you? I suggest you draw the curtains on this scene. Since I have closely studied plumber behaviour I can practically write his script for you.

What one usually gets when one searches for a plumber or an electrician is a combination of the two. A strange beast, this plumber-cum-electrician, like a doctor-cum-engineer who can operate on your kidney today and design your water tank tomorrow — which may not be such an outlandish profession after all, considering how one keeps hearing students say “If I can’t get into medicine I’ll do engineering”, as if the two are interchangeable, as if one can have an equal aptitude for both. But who bothers about aptitude? It’s just the money that matters; there’s more to be made in medicine, hence the greater value attached to the course.

Allow me to now present my script. I am sure it works for the electrician too, should he be a separate entity. First, you spread the word that you are seeking a plumber. Four days later he turns up at noon to study the problem, quote his fee, take an advance from you, and promise to return at two. You can expect him at four and predict his excuses about having had to catch a bus to the market to buy the maal. He starts work in a tearing hurry but is frequently interrupted by calls on his mobile phone to which his invariable response is “Okay, okay, I will come”. After hammering away at the wall until brick and mortar crumble and pipes are exposed he abruptly stops. He has to go home to fetch the “cutting machine”. Why didn’t he bring it in the first place? You wonder what his dusty tool bag with the broken zipper contains. Earlier, he had asked you for a spanner. A plumber without a set of spanners — isn’t that like a pupil saying she hasn’t brought her pen to class? Hours pass. He returns to tell you he walked home and couldn’t find the machine because his wife, who is away at work, has mislaid it. You know the real story is that he is sharing his equipment with another plumber who has yet to deliver it to him. Shall I come at nine tomorrow? He asks. You hastily say that ten would be okay.

Of course he doesn’t come at ten. The morning passes uneventfully. At 1.30 p.m. just as you’re sitting down to lunch the doorbell rings... I think you can complete this script on your own. He uses various means to extend the time taken to complete the job from what should have been two hours to over three days, making sure to collect part-payment before he leaves each day, which is a neat psychological ploy because when he taps you in instalments you hardly feel the leakage. Your tension mounts after the final goodbyes, though. How many hours/days will the effects of the repair last?

I’ve just recovered from a plumbing experience that turned out to be, all things considered, in the final analysis, at the end of the day, reasonably and comparatively non-stressful. If I sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister it’s because I dare not give our plumber’s handiwork a thumbs-up as yet — what if the dreaded seepage Returns like the Mummy? Most plumbers and electricians are ham-fisted and unqualified. They learn on the job as apprentices to others who’re only slightly more knowledgeable than they. After a year or two of being sidekicks they strike out on their own, and heaven help their victims. I may be chary of awarding our plumber a five-star rating but he himself had no such qualms. He insisted that we take a cell phone picture of the sealed pipe — now that’s a first! Once he had restored the demolished wall and plastered it, nobody would be able to appreciate how skilfully he had fixed the leak, he explained. Was it sheer pride, or was he merely gathering material evidence in case our apartment owners association took him to Plumbers Court?

Unfortunately it isn’t mandatory for members of his tribe to take a certificate course in their trade. I have a hunch, though, that there will be a surplus of highly qualified plumbers and electricians in the days to come. It’s just a wild theory but hear me out. Our increasingly privatised education system and the government’s withdrawal of funding for collegiate education will leave the next generation will no choice but to stop at “tenth class pass”. Graduation will become prohibitively expensive, like in the US, and our country will abound in vocational courses. Simultaneously, the pure sciences and the humanities will be snuffed out; already, departments in many colleges are shutting down for lack of demand. Job-oriented courses are our future. If Britain turned us into a nation of babus, the US is turning us into a nation of technicians. Our sons and our daughters will be trained to become plumbers and electricians. Believe me, it’s in the pipeline.

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