By Dev Nadkarni
Years ago my job regularly took me to the swank offices of an ad agency that were housed on the third floor of one of those nondescript industrial estates in the smelly underbelly of Mumbai. The painfully slow industrial lifts and the long queues to get into them were avoidable and I had long opted for the crummy flights of the fast crumbling staircase.
It always struck me: the offices I visited were so well appointed, veneered, carpeted and richly upholstered –you could be in any of the business capitals of the world. But to say that the approach to this well-groomed microcosm was stark in contrast would be an understatement. Chipping concrete, falling plaster, discoloured walls, broken steps, cobwebbed grills, not to mention the one, universal hallmark of our ethos –paan-stained wall-corners on the landings.
After a hiatus of a few months, I visited the building again. Much remained unchanged. The chipping concrete, the broken steps and the cobwebbed grills were still intact. But there was one overwhelming change. The walls were whitewashed and the paan stains were gone. The wall-corners, instead, had tiled pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses fixed about knee height. The society running this industrial estate had hit upon this plan, my friend at the ad agency told me.
Gods’ pictures had successfully prevented people from spitting on the wall-corners. The idea was borrowed from the Prince of Wales Museum authorities, I was told, who had done the same thing with their perimeter wall that people used for spewing out more than just paan fluid! The next time you find the picture of a god in an innocuous place, you know why its there.
There’s a celebrity I know who’s wrought a miracle on his personal life so very ingeniously. Smothered by autograph hunters every time he appears in public, he found that there was no convincing reason he could use to ward them off. They would use every trick to get him to sign –cajole, humour, evoke sympathy, even self-pity. Then he hit up this tremendous excuse. He would simply say, “Today is my vrat –I don’t sign on my vrat days.” And the crowd would melt away without any fuss. “Next time, god willing,” would be their apologetic, fatalistic refrain, to his great delight.
Who says you can’t get god to work miracles –whether civic or personal– even in these times?