Article Published in THE TIMES OF INDIA

Unscrewing Affair

Navtej Sarna

“ TAIRE change aur painchure?”, asked the chief, his manner clearly contemptuous.

I felt like a man who has bought a common cold to a famed neurosurgeon. But the diagnosis was nevertheless correct.

“Yes”, I replied and almost added that the next time around I would try to make it worth his while more.

The chief waved me to his number two. This young man stared for a moment at my car, his feet spaced out and his arms akimbo. He saw no fancy hardtop jeep; not even of those zany things that have brought the concept of zig-zag to the Indian road. No tinted glass, no private siren. Probably no AC or stereo, he must have surmised. Not his baby. Totally infra-dig.

He called over his shoulder to the boy who had joined the day before, the workshop’s equivalent of a probationer, the humblest and the hardest at work.

“Come on wrap up that simple matter and don’t waste any time about it.”

Simple matter, Oh! He was not to blame. He had no previous experience of my car.

The probationer picked up a spanner, threw it down and then picked up another. He banged it on the wheel hub. No need but that’s just the professional touch. Then he spat in the dust just like the chief and was ready for the job.

He fixed the spanner and balancing his right foot on it gave it all he had got. The rubber chappal slipped but nothing else moved..

A surreptitious look around and he gave it another try, this time with both hands. No go again. The second mate was called in sheepishly, and he came cursing the overall incompetence of all probationers.

“He will became a me-cha-nic! Ha!”

Heave ho, curse, heave again. The nuts didn’t move and the probationer (my sympathies were now all with them) heaved a sigh of relief. I found myself smiling with pride. So what if my car is old, its no pushover.

At last the big moment. The chief himself was called. The probationer slinked back into the shadows and the second mate was still trying to prove that actually he could do it, but …….

The chief only discussed heatedly. He would not touch it himself. He saw in this apparently simple matter numerous possibilities for loss of face. That’s why he was chief.

Then they give me a common verdict.

“The nuts are too tight. They haven’t been unscrewed for too long”.

I hung my head in shame. What gross neglect and laziness. I mentally resolved that in the future, I shall have punctures at regular shot intervals.

“Please go to the mistri department.”

The mistri department was under the next tree. The man himself was in the middle of a huge plate of aloo-sabzi from the dhaba behind him.

“Nuts, you know. They can’t open them, the say it’s been too long.”

The specialists nodded. I am not sure that it was assent for the job or standards of the culinary standards of the dhaba.

Bu-urrp. It’s the latter.

He finally picked up a spanner. It filled deftly onto the nut. The muscles of his forearm, reminiscent of the village blacksmith, stood out. All praise to the aloo-sabzi, the nuts are unscrewed.

The case is transferred back to the puncture department where even a probationer can now handle it easily.