My first employer was a resort in a small hill station called Munnar in Kerala, South India. This was the first time I’d ventured out of home, and everything was new. Munnar in 2004 was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, but presented its fair share of challenges once you were outside the gates of the resort. I was accommodated with five other Management Trainees in a little village called Chinnakannal.
The only real house in the village was still under construction, but the company rented it anyway and asked us to move in while they put in minor things like window panes, light fittings and the goddamn floor. We didn’t care. We were in our early twenties. Who gives a f*ck at that age, right?
We were an interesting mix of fellows from different parts of India – each coping with the change in his own way. We had an intellectual, a pragmatist, a couple of practical jokers and one very nice dude with blindingly terrible foot odour. Also, much like The Avengers, we too had a Hulk. Six foot two. Muscular as hell. Koushik could have totally made it in the WWE if he’d given it a shot. Like most giants, he was a gentle dude who genuinely cared for his smaller sized homies.
So anyway.. we took the place and pretty soon, realized that none of us were prepared for the damp. Water would seep up from the unfinished floor, and make everything disgustingly wet. We soon learnt that it rained a LOT in Munnar. The year we were there, it actually overtook Cherrapunji – one of the wettest places on the damn planet – for the amount of annual rainfall received! It was a big frickin’ deal. Everyone in the village was talking about it. Our resort planned a fireworks display to honour the occasion and then promptly cancelled it due to rain.
One morning, we realized that the floor in one of our rooms, was looking particularly wet. We’d been keeping our luggage in this room, and the damp had started causing fungus and other fun things to develop on our stuff. We dusted off the mold as much as we could, but this was a problem that needed to be fixed asap. The contractor who was working on the house believed in ruthless prioritization, and unfortunately decided that it was more important to paint the outside of the building bright blue than it was to fix the floor. With a major language barrier as well – none of us spoke Malayalam – we soon figured that we were on our own.
We mulled over the issue for a couple of days, but between working horribly long hours and just getting things like laundry done, there was little time to brainstorm. The solution finally came to me on my day off. It was the morning right after a terrible storm. The sun was out, and I was on the terrace
pleading with my washed undies to dry before it started raining getting some fresh air.
Damp house apart, Munnar really was beautiful. The house was on the mountainside, and we overlooked a vast expanse of green from our terrace. The incline was breathtaking, and you could look down on forest, trees and tea plantations from where we were. It was then, that I noticed the sun glinting off a flat surface in the middle of all that greenery. It was a good 300 m down the hillside, so I couldn’t really tell what it was, at first glance. I peered at it some more, and it looked like a sheet of tin or metal or something. Interesting.
I decided to investigate. Went down to the house, and put on a pair of sports shoes. Management Trainee Dhruv Shanker was going trekking, baby! I descended into the green and started towards the target. I reached it in about 10 min and found that it was indeed a large sheet of tin lying in the middle of nowhere. This was great! In one brainwave, I’d figured out the flooring problem. This lovely sheet of metal would now be the floor of the damp room in our house!
I tried to pick it up and became instantly aware that I had the core strength of a grape. I managed to move the thing a few feet, but it was painfully obvious that this shit wasn’t happening. I decided to look for some help at the village teashop and went back up the slope. I took a peep inside and found that the average age of the patrons inside was 128 years. Slightly dejected, and also worried that someone would steal my piece of tin, I went back home.
Just then, a shuttle jeep from the hotel pulled up and my pal Koushik hopped out. I told him what I was up to and he took off down the mountainside like a man on a mission. I followed to help, but he was sorted. He picked up the sheet of metal and held it over his head like a gigantic graduation hat and started to walk up the slope. I was slightly amazed, but then again, I’d also seen this guy lift a Mahindra Commander jeep out of a ditch once.
I quickly got the fuck out of his way and cleared the path for him. Together, we got the thing inside the house and replaced the floor! It was a huge victory and we gave the guys all the details over several happy rum and cokes that night. It was great. It felt like a little success in the face of all the growing pains we were having. Too bad it lasted exactly 24 hours.
It was back to the grind the next day, and all of us left for work at the resort as usual. When we got back, there was the contractor and a couple of locals from the village waiting for us outside the house. Through bits of Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English – we gathered that we’d taken something that didn’t belong to us. It took me a while, but I finally figured that they were talking about my precious metal sheet! Some weird protective instincts kicked in, and I made it clear that this was a finders-keepers thing and I was not going to hand over the sheet so easily.
The contractor jumped into the fray and started to explain. Our “sheet” was actually the roof of a house that had flown off in that monster storm a couple of nights back. The whole fucking balance shifted and I began to feel a little guilty. I mumbled a few apologies and offered to pay for the thing, but it soon became obvious that they were more amused than anything. The old guys in the teashop had been watching my adventures all afternoon, and passed the word around that one of the “new boys” had been acting strangely. Anyway, long story short, they’d kinda figured out what I was trying to do and asked the contractor to go and do his job. I was pretty amazed.
I’d like to say that the contractor started work on the floor the very next day, but this isn’t a movie. He got to it eventually, and I’m happy to note that the sheet stayed with us till then. We’ve all come a long long way since damp floors in Munnar, but every now and then, my mind wanders back to that afternoon when my friend walked up a mountainside in his work uniform, carrying a metal sheet over his head. That’s one heck of a snapshot, folks. If I could print it and hang it on my wall, I totally would.
I’ll sign off with this vintage ad for Everest Cement, featuring the late great Dara Singh.
Over and out.