The other day my neighbour woke me up with an insistent lean on the doorbell at an hour that I estimated to be just before the dawn of mankind. He doesn’t usually do that, unless he feels like it, so I blundered out myopically in my nightdress. He was leaning over our shared landing, pointing at something white and noisy downstairs, and shouting agitatedly. I went and stood companionably next to him. He looked at me as if I was retarded. “Someone has cut your water pipe,” he yowled over the din. “You’d better call your plumber.”
I retreated into my flat to feel about for my spectacles. When I emerged, the white, noisy thing had horrifyingly resolved itself into a gush of perfectly good water spewing from a pipe-shaped hole in my water pipe, where a section of the pipe had evidently been cut out.
This was quite motivating, so I lumbered off to the phone, glancing at the clock, which read 7am, and called a plumber. “Can you come at once?” I asked, aware that it was possibly even earlier in the day of the plumbing business than it was in the day of the freelance writing business, but compelled to take my best long shot at it. “Yes,” he said firmly, “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
My neighbour and a kindly driver helped to temporarily stem the flow of wasted water, which in a city like Delhi is worse than the flow of blood, by tying an old plastic bag over the pipe with some string. Then I sat around and thought sad thoughts about vandals, perpetrators of random cruelty, and other meanies, until I noticed that it was almost 8am.
I rang the plumber back. “But nothing opens until 10 o’clock!” he said. “Then why did you tell me you’d be here in ten minutes?” I asked in my best Hannibal Lecter voice. There was no really great answer to this, so he repeated, “But nothing opens until 10 o’clock!” in the obvious hope that I’d hang up in rage, which I did. The neighbour was on top of things, though, and told me that his plumber was coming anyway in a little while, as well as what I should say to him, and what I should pay him, and what a scoundrel he is.
When the plumber came, he looked at the pipe and, without missing a beat said, “Someone has stolen your water metre.” This is the sort of obvious thing that I would never have figured out on my own, since I don’t think of myself as a person in possession of a water metre. I gazed awestruck at his genius, and wrote out an application to the Delhi Jal Board to please provide me another water metre.
The plumber deposited the application for me, and affixed a new metre to my water connection, tying an old plastic bag over it for good measure. He said, however, that I should rejig the piping so that it runs against the wall, and then he can build a locked box around the water metre, so that it can’t be stolen for resale again.
But if it’s not that, it will be something else. The next morning, I discovered that the lock on the lid of my Sintex water tank had been ripped off, along with the plastic bits that hold the lock in place. While it’s infuriating, I couldn’t blame people who need access to water for doing a little breaking and entering. I hope that’s the case. It would be much more depressing if they just turned out to be in the business of reselling locks.