Saturday, February 24, 2007


People think I'm areligious, even anti-religious, but it isn't true. I'm as devout as the next guy (always assuming, of course, that I'm not standing next to the Dalai Lama). It's just that all these mass produced gods - Christ, Allah, Vishnu, Mammon - don't do it for me. My chosen lar is the heating system in my apartment [1].

Now you have to understand something. Most people have heating systems that are quiet and obsequious, like a well-trained butler or a ghost that sits in the corner, whispering to itself. Mine, on the other hand, combines the temperament of Zeus with the voice of a marauding lion. It grunts, it roars, it shakes its dreaded vents. Ambitious beyond its means, it seems to feel the need to compete single-handedly with global warming, and left to itself, will pour heat into the room until everyday metal objects start to shimmer like that guy in Terminator - not Arnold, the better one. No mere thermostat is going to hold this heating system in check.

What this means in practise is that leaving the heat on in my room is impossible. Every night I turn it off, and every morning, with a devotion the most pious pujari in Haridwar would envy, I leap out of bed, rush over to the temperature control, turn the heat on again, and stand with my arms raised in supplication before the vent until I feel the warmth of my lord's blessing flowing over me. 'Tis only when I have bathed in the divine radiance of this ersatz Surya of mine, that I feel capable of getting on with the rest of the day's rituals [2].

Then, yesterday, disaster. I come home from work and like a devoted son in a Rajesh Khanna movie, rush to the feet of my heating vent to seek its blessing. I turn on the switch. I wait. And nothing happens. Not to worry. Mumbling the sacred mantra Control-Alt-Del under my breath, I turn the switch off and turn it back on again. Still nothing. No anticipatory growl, no trembling of the walls. I feel like a sacrificial virgin stood up by her monster. I raise my hands up close to the vent to see if I can feel anything. Is that a whiff of warm air I sense? "If it be so / it is a chance which does redeem all sorrows". Nah! it's just my imagination. I try tweaking the thermostat control (not that those have ever worked, but you never know). Then I go back to the switch. I turn it off and on, off and on in quick succession, like a maniac with an Aldis lamp. No good. Three short off-ons, followed by three long, followed by three short again? Nope. I give rein to my inner caveman, try banging on the damn thing. Effect on temperature control? None. Effect on dainty, distinctly un-caveman like hand? Painful.

Okay, not to panic. After all, I come from a long line of do-it-yourself home repairers. Why, legend has it that one of my ancestors was even in the Mahabharat. He was the guy who fixed the plumbing in that house the Pandavas built - you know - the one where it looked like a floor but when you stepped on it it turned out to be water. With blood like that leaking through my veins surely I wasn't going to let one lousy thermostat get the better of me. "But you haven't got any tools" Day Falstaff (that wuss!) points out. Tools! I scoff back. I don't need tools. Give me a penknife and I could build you a space ship (if it's one of those swiss army knives with a corkscrew attachment I'll even serve you wine on board). This Billy Bob Thornton guy's got nothing on me.

So I proceed to dismantle the thermostat. This means I take off the top cover, expecting to be faced with a bristling mass of ingenious circuitry. Instead it seems that the entire thermostat consist of three wires, four screws, a small copper plate and a strip of metal that looks like someone started to bend it into a question mark then gave up half way. No wonder the damn thing doesn't work. I try tweaking the thermostat dial again, even though I can now see that it's not connected to anything. No click, no hiss, no crackle of sparks. I stare at the innards of my thermostat accusingly, hoping to guilt trip it back on. No luck. All right, that's it, this thing is clearly beyond even my astounding electro-mechanical capabilities. I'm calling for back-up.

While I'm waiting for the emergency maintenance guy to show I wonder if I've done something to anger the Heat. My heat, my heat, why hast thou forsaken me, I ask. I wonder if some sort of propitiary rite, some sort of hallowed libation is called for. I ponder the odds of finding a fresh coconut at 10 o clock at night in downtown Philadelphia. I try to imagine getting a heifer into my room and sacrificing it at the heating vent's altar. I suppose if I took out the bed it would fit. I could always sleep on the corpse of the thing afterwards. I've always wanted a couch done in calfskin, and there's something to be said for a piece of furniture that's both bed and barbecue (bean bags, it turns out, aren't actually edible).

Ah, a knock on the door. The professionals are here at last. Enter Friendly Emergency Repairman (FER). FER's first act on entering is to inform me that he's never worked in this building before, it's not his regular beat, he's just filling in for some other guy. Square of him, but does this mean he can't fix my heat? He'll try, he says, but first he wants to know where the breakers are. Huh? He wants to talk about surfing? Ah, the circuit breakers. Yes, yes, of course. How should I know? He's the repair guy. We proceed to spend the next five minutes searching my room for the circuit breakers, my giving him the "some repairman you are, don't even know where the circuit breakers are" vibe, while he gives me the "what sort of man lives in an apartment and never checks the circuit breakers? He must be gay" look. Eventually we give up. We can't find the damn things. FER then gets on with his work. It seems he doesn't actually need to check the circuit breakers, he just wanted to know where the things were [3].

Now FER gets to work in earnest. He takes off the (already loose) cover of the thermostat. He peers knowingly at its interior workings. He frowns. He rotates the dial of the temperature control. He frowns some more. "You know", he says, "this thing doesn't seem to do anything at all." I feel like one who smiles and turning shall remark his expression in a glass. "Has it ever worked?" he wants to know. I try to explain to him about how the cut-out never worked, how I would turn it on just long enough to super-heat the room, then turn it off again. It's like explaining some mystic aboriginal rite to a missionary. Here I am laying bare my deepest spiritual connection and this man is mentally filling out a report that says "Thermostat inoperational. Natives deluded and prone to strange fantasies". "Not to worry", he says when I'm done, with a there-there tone in his voice. I'll write you up for a new thermostat, the regular guys should be able to install it tomorrow." Wait, wait! Tomorrow?! SHOULD?! I'm living in an igloo here and they'll fix it tomorrow?! FER does a quick check on the temperature in the room with his nifty lazer thermometer thing-y and points out that it's 65 degrees in here. Okay, fair enough, but it could get cold. "You'll be fine", he assures me. Easy for him to say. As he's packing up his tools we chat about how bad this February's been. He tells me how his utility bills have been criminally high, but what can you do, with the temperature what it is you need to keep the heat turned up high. Not a master of tact, your average FER.

Of course, now that my heat's off for the night the temperature outside just has to drop below 20 degrees. It takes me twenty minutes to get up in the morning. I linger in my bed, wondering if my blanket will marry me if I ask nicely. I finally force myself out by thinking of all those Jack London stories about people who fell asleep and died in the snow. "Must keep moving" I mutter and drag myself up. Emerging from my cocoon I feel most unbutterflylike. The windows radiate cold. The keyboard sends little shivers through my hands. I type out this post with blue, trembling fingers, and then, just minutes before the regular maintenance staff's shift starts, I hear it. A distant rumble at first, then the long, long sigh of a tired old man, then, with the rattle of a throat clearing, the heat is back, filling my room with its blast.

Forgive me, o Heat, for ever doubting thee. Forgive me that I did, before the cock's crow, deny thee three times in the witness of others. Blow herald angels, blow thou triumphant trumpets and thee stereo - sing, sing! (cue: "I know that my redeemer liveth")

But errr...meanwhile, could you go away again until the repair guys have come and gone?

[1] 'Apartment' is an exaggeration. Room would be more accurate, pigeon-hole even more so. Still, I'm a big believer in the power of positive suggestion.

[2] This of course, is how this whole religion thing got started in the first place. Most early societies worshipped fire, and it's a well known fact that the real reason that guy left Plato's cave was because it didn't have double glazing. The more things change, etc.

[3] I wonder if this is some sort of social ritual among repairmen - checking out each other's circuit breakers. The way I can't walk into a place without going over the bookshelf. "Well, Mac, this is a mighty fine collection of fuses you've got here. Oh, and look, a 50 amp three incher! One of my favourites in college!"


Just Mohit said...

"I linger in my bed, wondering if my blanket will marry me if I ask nicely"

Anonymous said...

Heh..that was the funniest line in the post for me too, but Mohit beat me to mentioning it here first. :)

Cute story.


Heh Heh said...

try it. blankets can be surprisingly amenable to such things.

Revealed said...

Hehehe. Blankets can be as clingy as women. Think wisely and well before making rash decisions ;).

Kronoskraor said...

Hilarious!!And I'm not being cheeky about your spirituality/religiosity at all!I get up 2 hours before my wake up time to switch on the water-geyser,everyday.That's 5 mins of my sleep gone.It's called super-devotion.

Falstaff said...

mohit / N: Thanks. I figured, most people use their spouse as a comfort blanket, it's about time someone used a blanket as a spouse.

heh heh: okay. You think I should get one that's queen sized first?

revealed: True. But at least they're machine washable and you never have to buy them flowers.

kronoskraor: Ah, yes, the early morning 50 metre geyser dash. You know I've heard they're considering making that an Olympic event?

Kronoskraor said...

@falstaff: yayyyy!!guess who's going to win it if they do:):)
(if you say you, or anybod that's NOT me, then i shall slaughter you across seven seas n all that)

Anonymous said...

are you having sex with your blanket then?