March 1, 2014

The Human Convenience

The functionality and ease of modern condominium living in present day urban India is almost as basic a need as bijli, paani and sadak. The sheer convenience of getting everything at the ring of a bell is a given necessity of urban existence for millions of us. Like many Indians who witnessed the transition from snail-mail to emails, from Fiats and Ambassadors to Audis and Jaguars, Bullets, Rajdoots and Yezdis to Harley-Davidsons I can’t help but feel guilty for enjoying certain luxuries. The ease of 24x7 power backup, the freedom from switching on the motor at the crack of dawn to ensure a ready supply of water, the joy of finding your designated parking spot empty when you enter the sodium-vapor lit pot-hole free colony roads, the happy picture of old couples tottering along manicured lawns wash away the memories of growing up in a pre-liberalized India. In a few years from now when my generation makes way for the next and the one after that, such memories would be treated like fables. After all, things that happened in the last century are meant to be looked in that manner, right?

Last week there was a fire security drill in the condominium where I reside. There are over 800 apartments and notices were posted in the lobby of every tower, 6 of them to be precise, informing about the surprise drill. Now, there is a heavy-duty private fire brigade within 500 meters of the housing complex but you can’t argue the need of knowing a few things in name of fire safety for someone residing on the 15th floor in a relatively active seismic zone. For the sake of the residents the drill was planned on a weekend to ensure maximum attendance and for further convenience was scheduled between breakfast and lunch even though unexpected fires might not seek a prior appointment. The children’s park in the heart of the society was chosen to the base where the residents would congregate once the alarms bells went off. It was in the middle of a conversation between my wife and I when the fire alarms went off and lest there be any doubts the men organizing the drill announced the program on the PA system. The calm but bored voice told us that this was the drill and now that it was underway they would like it if we could make it all look a little real. A few beats later the volume of both the fire alarms (was it really possible?) and announcer on the PA system (could have done with some modulation) went up and people started coming out of their apartments. In a mix of adults with hangover and kids refusing to get up on school days, some of us decided to partake on Mission: Fire Safety. I, of course, was told to kill two birds with one shot- attend the drill and take our year-old excitable Labrador out for walk. My wife saw us off at the door and said she’d have loved to join us but she’d, for the moment, continue to live in a more real world. A few months ago there was an earthquake and that being more real than a mock fire drill saw me carry Buddy, then a rotund and obviously a-tad-too-big-for-three-months lab pub, down 14 floors but this time we opted for the elevator. Of course, it beat the purpose but we decided to save our best take for later.

There is nothing more disturbing than traveling in an elevator with fire alarms ringing at fever pitch and a mutt trying to out-howl them. Albeit more disturbing, the sight of grown men and women in their nightwear has the capacity to distract you from any kind of threat and if ever I were stuck in a real fire then I know just the trick to calm myself. I was greeted by the fire inspector overseeing the evacuation process for my tower once I was out of the elevator and he wasn’t too happy with my choice and that too ‘in case of fire.’ But they don’t call a dog a man’s best friend for no reason and Buddy made sure that we walked right past him without hesitation. I walked around the park where the chief fire inspector was speaking into a microphone and telling the handful of people who gathered around how to survive a fire. Don’t take the elevator, he said, something that I had already done but I learnt that more people die from the smoke in a fire than being burnt and additionally most commercial places like malls have doors that can withstand fire for almost 2 hours. It was a little disturbing to see that the water hose in the colony could only reach the 10th floor but fire engines have retractable ladders so that’s take care of. I would have liked to carry on listening but Buddy was more interested in other things and couldn’t be inconvenienced. The whole drill, and more importantly reactions, both human and canine, made me realize that nothing dare threaten our convenience. Condo living has taught us the importance of convenience and our control over it. Of course, certain things like natural calamities are out of our hands but for everything else we humans mustn’t do anything to inconvenience others and more importantly ourselves.

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