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     Volume 4 Issue 45 | May 6, 2005 |

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Slice of Life

Going Underground

Richa Jha

Few months ago, The Hubby and I decided to go underground. Literally. Let me explain. There is a tremendous space crunch on terra firma and not because the earth has suddenly shrunk. When we had first landed in Dhaka, I could open my window, hang my torso out and get caressed by the gentle evening breeze. Then a new apartment came up next to ours and until some time back, I could stick my arm out and touch the fancy bars on my neighbour's window (those windows need a good scrub, someone tell them please…). The next thing I realise is that my window was soon to be sealed because a new apartment was to be constructed next door, to be squeezed in the two ft. gap between the two existing buildings. It seems that the consortium of builders, in a bid to strengthen the architectural topography of this city, have pledged to connect all concrete buildings in the city. I can't breathe without my windows, so I needed to get out before the construction reached up to my floor.

Moreover, there are far fewer upheavals happening below the surface of the earth than above it. Take for instance, the trauma of having to witness an apartment building collapse in our neighbourhood a couple of months ago. To be fair to the builders, this one didn't crumble the way the sweater factory did at Savar; in keeping with its prized location in a posh locality, it did so rather stylishly, one wall at a time, and made sure that the media had enough time to come and capture it live for TV.

In hindsight, experts are attributing its resilience to the quality of cement used being better than that at the Savar factory. Do also factor in the fact that since these flats were meant for people whose lives are precious, more skilled heads would have designed the building. These basic structural strengths gave the residents enough time to clear the building in time. There were no casualties, though the eminent residents had to camp themselves out on the roads and personally supervise the 'rescue' cum clearing up operation as they didn't trust the rescue team with the thick wads of currency that was being fished out in huge numbers. This, after they had already managed a partial eviction of some of their most prized possessions.

As you agree, it is not easy to continue living in an apartment block erected by the same builder, hence the urgency of moving some place else. Going underground looked like a solution worth exploring and it was not as if we were foreclosing our options of resurfacing.

Our house was ready in no time. Three days into our blissful existence underground, there was a sharp knock at the door. Several men stood there with menacing tools, ready to, as it seemed, evict us from our humble abode. But they turned out to be harmless workmen sent there to lay hume pipes for underground drainage.

"So, what brings you here? This is my house," I said firmly.

"Let it be. But the pipes have to be laid here", the supervisor remarked matter-of-factly.

"Is this some kind of joke? I'll call the police," I was furious.

"No, our masterplan shows this drain-pipe running through this area, and if you resist, you may be in the lock up for obstructing welfare work."

"But how is it possible? We cleared it with the authorities before starting our construction work," I remonstrated.

"We don't know all that. Maybe you didn't do the right things, or maybe, you ended up offending someone up there. All we know now is that we have been asked to lay the sewerage pipes in this area and your house is coming in our way."

"But I can't have sewerage waste running through my house…" I winced.

"Madam, it is still better than having no house at all, for it will have to be pulled down if…you know what I mean."

This was a grave problem. Some quick thinking happened and a via media was arrived at. Being an accommodating man as he was, the supervisor suggested a way of getting round this deadlock.

A few bucks passed into the right pockets ensured a slight alteration in their blue-print. Soon, we had a newly laid drinking water pipe sitting pretty across what had been conceived as the foyer outside my drawing room! I tried to work around the ugly monstrosity by hiding it as aesthetically as I could.

A few weeks ago, this pipe began to leak. From what oozed out, trickle by trickle, I thought we had been tricked by the contractor into allowing a sewerage pipe through our house after all, because the form and smell of this drinking water was unrecognisable. But The Hubby assured me otherwise. "And in any case," he added, "this water will not be supplied to people like us. You are safe."

His words helped allay my fears, though there was also that putrid smell to contend with. But that's a small price I was willing to pay for living undisturbed for the next couple of decades (I have enormous faith in the authorities; it is unlikely that the first set of repair works will happen before the next generation grows up). Besides, there's no smell that an air freshner can't mask.

However, two days ago I was stunned to see a fresh contingent of faces with digging tools at my door. Taking them to be pipe-repair specialists, my initial reaction was to send them away saying there was nothing wrong here (honestly, I'd had enough of these men floating around the house over the week and felt faint at the thought of some more). But they informed me of a new set of telephone cables that are to be laid across my house, this time, right through my bedroom. I wanted to know if they could do something about the nagging cross connections in my telephone line, but they said the cables for the existing lines run below my bathroom floor. If needed, it could be dug up to check for faults. I said No.

This morning, when I thought my dug up woes would soon be over, I learnt from one of the workers that in keeping with the times, a series of fibre optic cables are to be laid across the city by the end of this month and one of the channels is to flow through, where else, my kitchen!

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