Spice of life: How ‘Taj Mahal’ was built

  • Dr Manju Gupta
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2015 19:34 IST

Once upon a time there lived a maiden who felt her kitchen needed remodelling. This wasn’t a whim but a decision taken after much deliberation. The old kitchen had to go. My husband wasn’t convinced and the fact that I detest cooking made a very strong argument. But sometimes, I like to play chef, and on those occasions, feel that the kitchen should look the part.

It took some convincing but I got my husband on board finally. After some research, we picked a firm that assured us that it was a 15-day job and it could start as soon as the masons had finished. It sounded simple. A month’s job at the most.

The first step was demolishing the existing kitchen. This was done in two days by two able-bodied men. I had a good feeling, even though now there were two gaping holes in my living room, one the gateway to my cherished kitchen and the other the exit from the old one. I was naive to believe that all that stood between me and my new, modular kitchen was a bit of masonry, some retiling, and the small job of placing countertops. I had always heard that the Indian construction sector was disorganised but now I was to know its true meaning. My nightmare had begun.

It was only when in the thick of things that I realised that all masons were not equal. There is the lowly, katcha -plaster mason, who could do only groundwork. The tile setter couldn’t be caught dead doing plaster and only the senior mason could finish the walls. You couldn’t interchange them. But before that, we needed an electrician to lay the new lines and a plumber to make the tap and gas connections. Coordinating these various branches of engineering was an uphill task. I would call the electrician and plumber so frequently that my Smartphone labelled them favourites automatically. Smart? Dumb phone!

There are contract killers who are quick but not meticulous, and there are bleeders, who labour with love. I noticed that the most common excuse the daily wagers would make for absence was a death in the family. Someone suggested I maintained a death register, not let anyone die twice. At one point, I was deliberating getting a memorial raised in my garden, “to all those who lost their life for the cause”. With this new insight, I developed an alternative theory of how the Taj Mahal got built. An excited Shah Jahan brought the plan of extensive remodelling to a very pregnant and irritable Mumtaz. One look at it, “20,000 workers over 20 years!” and she said: “Over my dead body.” The rest is history.

To cut a very long story short, it took more than three months to move into the new but still incomplete kitchen. I no longer cared that the chimney duct should be hidden inside a wooden raft and that the floor should have a final round of polish. Over the next couple of months, those final touches were given, and I pledged never to indulge in such recklessness again.

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