The house is strangely empty. Just a few days back it had been filled with strangers of all shades and hues. There were people everywhere: plumbers, masons, painters, electricians, carpenters almost an invasion! It had been rather irritating at first as we got pushed out of our space with alacrity and almost banished to a little corner but somehow I had got used to it and I must say in hindsight quite enjoyed the novel experience. My days were ruled by the motley crew of workers and I had learnt to live with it. The first lot arrived by 8.30 and then by 10 am the house was buzzing with noise and activity. I was often called to one floor or the other to sort some problem or the other: where to place a pipe, was the colour right, where did I want a shelf put and so on. Time flew till the house got empty by 6pm, that was on days when the workers did not decide to do 'a night', which meant that they would be in till midnight.
I must admit there were moments when one got a little irritated, but these were few and far apart. When not needed I found myself ambulating around the house simply watching the men at work. As I had written earlier, I was amazed by the happy mood around. Not withstanding heat or dust, no one complained, quite the contrary, they found time to laugh and joke or sing. Many had their own songs on their cellphones and they often sang along joyfully even if they were out of tune. Sometimes work stood still and you wondered why till you discovered the workers praying in a corner: it was namaz time! You simply tiptoed away.
At times I found myself shuddering with fright at the sight of a frail worker with a load of bricks trying to get across the wobbly wooden planks that led from one roof to the other, or when one worker hung precariously on the jhoola (sort of swing) painters use to paint high walls. I often walked away, too scared to watch.
There were a few young workers, but as I had written earlier, I had made my peace with the curious case of child labour. I just hoped and prayed that they would one day graduate to becoming masons and then who knows, small time contractors though I wished I could have taught a modicum of the 3 Rs so that they would not make the mistake their contractor Murtaza did. You see Murtaza must have begun his career just like them, at a very young age. Today he takes small contracts. In our case he had to tile the roof and had quoted a price. When the work was completed he was forlorn. He had under quoted and made a loss of a couple of thousands of rupees. He admitted the fact sheepishly and I simply smiled and handed him the missing amount. He was elated. In other places he would have had to take the loss, one he could not afford.
Slowly the house that had at one time looked like having been quaked, started to fall in place. And then came the day when the plumbers and then the carpenters and then the masons declared they had finished and walked away. Only the painters were left and they too would soon move outside. An eerie silence filled the once buzzing space and though everything looked pristine and new, it was almost as if the place had lost its soul, albeit temporarily. I realised that from this day on there would be no music and song, no laughter and chiding, no prayers in the corner. I knew that I would have to learn once again to live in my space, one I had shared with a band of merry men who could teach one the art of surviving with a smile.
Strange but true: I miss my workers!