These gods are hard to please

To get household tasks done you now need to be in the good books of a range of workers

Updated - October 18, 2016 01:43 pm IST

Published - June 13, 2016 11:01 pm IST

Illustration: Surendra

Illustration: Surendra

As a former Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration who had settled down in Dehradun, ‘RP’ used to be often invited to the Academy to talk to trainees on good governance issues. The young recruits always found his talks motivational. Some of his experiences, narrated deadpan, left listeners in splits.

One particular talk was delivered often to new recruits. It comprised four sessions of about an hour each. For the faculty members who had to sit through, it was amusing to find that the text of the talk and the manner of its delivery were the same, talk after talk, year after year. The joke was that even the timing of his taking a sip from the glass of water kept on the podium was always the same. He had taken it to heart.

He used to recount his experiences, post-retirement. While in service he was quite busy, but used to find time to pray to a range of gods and goddesses in the pantheon, at home or in various shrines in different parts. However, after retirement he had little time for them. Every morning, he had to choose his special god to offer his prayers to: it could be a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter or anyone from the assortment of functionaries without whose services your life could be really miserable.

I thought it was a nice joke, because at that point of time I was in service and had a retinue of officials who took care of such and other sundry matters.

But the truth of RP’s quandary dawned on me when some 20 years later I settled down in a house of my own, for the first time in my life, after retirement.

An experience re-lived When I look at my predicament these days, I think he used to make a gross understatement. The day begins with a prayer to our daily maid (Oh Lord, give us this day our daily maid!). If she comes, we are eternally grateful to her. If she doesn’t, there is hang all we can do about it. We do not expect her to tell us in advance about her inability to come .

In the meanwhile as the usual time of her daily arrival goes by, our tension increases by leaps and bounds because the dilemma is huge: whether to wait any longer or to start doing the work ourselves, particularly if we have an engagement elsewhere, including an appointment with a doctor.

That brings me to the second set of gods and goddesses in our pantheon. Getting the electrician, plumber and carpenter is next only to getting a maid to work, in terms of degree of impossibility.

Keeping time

First, any good workman worth his salt is generally too busy with large projects and has little time for small householders. If he agrees to come, you have to be hugely lucky if he comes at the time he has promise to come. For example, if your plumber says he would be there in half an hour, you can rest assured that it will stretch to nearly two hours, that is if it does not spill over to the next day or the next.

Meanwhile, you have no option but to wait and pray. Your appointments get postponed or cancelled; but you can do nothing but pray.

Thus we pray by rotation and by rote to about half-a-dozen gods and goddesses of our household pantheon.

However, unlike the real gods, who normally do not appear before ordinary mortals, the new gods we have now acquired actually materialise in person. Moreover, unlike RP, I find time to pray to both, although I am able to assign only about 10 minutes to the more revered ones.

The author is a former Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha

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