The SRE and I were expecting the Akatha Kahani girls very early in the morning of the 14th of January. The 13th had been unexpectedly busy, and it was past eleven before I started winding up for the night, putting the house to bed, as it were. The SRE had already got into bed, when I smelled smoke. I checked the kitchen, the gas knobs, toaster etc., and drew a blank. I thought that the smoke could be coming from the central shaft between apartments, perhaps the security guards had lit a fire there. I called the watchman, but they checked, and no, there was no fire lit there. I asked them to send the electrician upstairs (one of two is always on duty in our building), and then called the SRE. By then there was a strong smell of burning and our sitting room, near the main entrance, especially, was full of acrid smoke. I opened all the windows, and the SRE checked the mains, which seemed fine. The electrician also came and opened the board, declared it to be fine, and said that the smell was more of something roasting, perhaps chicken in the first floor guest house. Just to check, he pressed our next door neighbour's bell. It turned out that they were having a havan. It was Lohri, after all!
The next day dawned very early for us- at around three a.m, as the train was reaching Howrah at around four a.m. Jaya had said that they would take a pre-paid cab from the station, but the SRE and I much preferred receiving them ourselves. We did nap later in the day, so that was not a problem.
While washing up the lunch dishes, my trusted help told me that something seemed to be wrong with the kitchen drain- there was a backflow from the main outlet. I wasn't quite sure what was wrong, and decided to ignore it and hope for the best. But by four o'clock, when we were washing up the tea things, I realized that there was a serious problem. Our other guests were expected at five, and it was already a quarter-past four, and the plumber was out buying materials. He finally came and did a quick emergency repair- he even managed to acquire the requisite part, and all was well before the programme commenced.
As the poet Robert Burns famously said:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley.
Truer words were never spoken. We plan to the best of our ability, but so much is out of our hands. Our well-being depends on so many factors, and also on the goodwill of so many.
Truly, there is no place for arrogance in our lives!
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