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Once upon a time…. No. Scratch that. Why should every story start with ‘once upon a time’? It is always once upon a time there was a king, a queen, a man, a woman, a lion, a fox, a whatever, almost as if stories don’t happen in the here and now. By the way I myself have written a story with the ‘Once upon a time’ title. Not that it matters, just saying and having said that, let’s move the setting of our story to more modern times, the *degenerated* modern times as the old-is-what-remains-gold group would have it. No, I don’t agree with them. Methinks old has lots of rusty iron strewn around which the sight-challenged look at and murmur wistfully, “Ahh, the old gold, the lovely old gold!”

So getting back to our ‘new’ setting, we have a city and in its suburbs, a housing colony with, what else but rows and rows of houses. Big, small, with garden, without garden, with trees, with no trees, with a swimming pool, with only a lone tap in the backyard, painted in shades of red, blue, yellow, dull grey, some with tiled roofs, others with concrete, some with wooden framed windows and doors, others done in metal… You get the drift. In short, the houses are varied in size, color, appearance, just as the people living in them.

The one with the fat face thought the beak-nosed fella was a hoot. But he didn’t laugh at his face, only behind his back with his other friends. The one with bushy brows was suspicious of the one with the bald head. The family that lived in the red house deplored the yellow color of the house next door and went snigger-snigger each time they passed it. The one with the swimming pool tsk-tsked when the one with only a single tap outside did all the washing in the yard. Those in the blue house threw rubbish into the backyard of the house with trees. The children played together and also fought. The adults cribbed behind each others backs, but flashed pearlies when face to face in a way that would put toothpaste ads to shame. In short, everything was normal and quite ordinary.

In this oasis of relative peace, the wind one day brought a powerful stench. Uh-ho, one of them (let’s call him A) said scrunching up his nose, someone’s drain is clogged up and overflowing. Being a do-gooder sort of man, he went about locating the source of the whiff of bad smell in the air. Consequently in the evening, he stopped B on his way back from work and told him of the broken sewage pipe near the west boundary wall of his house.

B murmured thanks and went home only to promptly push it out of his mind. Instead of attending to it, he watched TV, ate and slept, his usual activities when home from office. He was a good man and wanted to attend to the clogged drain, but being lazy or because he simply did not want to get his hands (and himself) dirty, he let the situation worsen. After all there were other broken sewage pipes in the area, C’s for example, and D’s not to mention E’s and F’s drains oozing unmentionable stuff. And what about the small broken bit in A’s backyard?

Most of day time he was away at the office anyways and did not have to smell anything. In the nights he slept soundly, and when he closed the windows he could hardly smell anything. So he let it be. Besides, where was the hurry? there was always time to set things right, if not today, then tomorrow or the day after. Secretly and fondly he hoped someone else, though he did not know who, would do the ‘setting right’ for him, sort of magically.

One weekend, when the neighbors gathered for drinks, talk turned to clogged and broken sewage pipes in the different households and B was reminded (by A) of his by now terribly smelly backyard. B was offended. C, D, E and F, not to mention A himself had broken drains in their houses, he shouted, with the bravado gifted by the liquor he had freely guzzled. How dare you point fingers at MY CLOGGED BRAIN sorry, DRAIN?! Do you dare point fingers at C,D,E and F, not to mention you yourself, he thundered at A. In righteous indignation he walked out and on the way broke all the streetlights that lighted his way for him to walk home every evening. He was soon joined by a few of his supporters and they pelted stones at nearby buildings too, breaking windows and littering the road with glass pieces.

When their anger abated, they sat in the self-induced darkness and spoke ill of those ‘others’. After a while, the inciting words from each other having soothed them all, B decided it was time to leave for home and get a good night’s sleep. Just then someone came running, limping rather, to tell B that his child had fallen into the now open drain he had neglected seeing to all these days. No, not that way! the messenger screamed too late as B started running. Everyone heard the howl of pain. B had stepped on a piece of broken glass in the darkness he had created for himself.

©Shail Mohan 2014

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