Repairing the house in Pilerne

Repairing the house in Pilerne
We drive into the village, which seems to be in a time warp. Nothing has changed, time after time that we visit, except the neighbours try to steal our property, as we are absentee landlords.They, just gently move the Portuguese stone, marking the boundary and steal a foot at a time.

We drive and park in the driveway and start clearing out the car of our stuff. Really, for seven days, we have enough stuff for a month. Trouble is, since this is not a running house, we carry everything from water to food stuff, rather than run around in the heat of Goa. Though the cupboard in the house has our cutlery, and crockery, an electric kettle a skillet and a tiny gas stove.All kept by Dad carrying stuff over the years, and which we use carefully and then seal away in plastic, before we leave. He would pinch the best and keep in his ‘Goa bag’ to bring to Pilerne, much to Mums chagrin.

The massive doors and windows creak open, the mother- of-pearl glinting in the setting sun. All the fans are switched on to circulate the air and the sounds of the jungle and the fields below, come into the house and envelop us in an embrace. It seems like the ancestors on the walls have slight smiles of welcome and Dad kinda looks puzzled, wondering why we took so long to return.

We come to repair. The house being old is forever breaking down as we don’t live in it. One year it could be bits of the roof, another year a huge plumbing job, another year call in the surveyor and survey some of the land which needs to be fenced, another year paint the doors and windows. It’s a very hard job, but keeping Dad in mind and seeing him look down at us from the pictures on the walls, we work like ants, without even a break for a trip to the beach.

This year one room needed a change of rafters. So, my husband goes down to the saw mill and orders the beams and carries them back to the village in a van with tiles.Everytime rafters are changed, tiles break. This year each tile is Rs 50, so 50 tiles is already Rs 2500. The beams are another 5 thousand and the labour Rs.5000. Throw in half kg nails and a can of cashew deek to treat the wood.

Then the men come early as Goa is exceedingly hot. 7am on the dot they are at the gate and we let them in. They climb up agile as monkeys two of them and start removing the tiles.Many break as they do that. Then the eaten rafters crash to the ground, obviously kept together by will power. The larger beams too are eaten, not visible to the naked eye, but tap them and they crumble, eaten by white ants.

Mud comes raining down and I run to cover the bed in the next room and our stuff with old sheets. There is mud everywhere in a cloud and I try to stay away cause of my asthma. The old tiles are thrown into the neighbouring plot and they will disintegrate with the rain, once the monsoons come.

Then cement has to be mixed to close the gap. Has to be done carefully as otherwise when it rains it will pour into the house.The tiles are a nice bright earthy orange, but soon left out to the elements, they become dull with moss growing on them. As they work I brew a flask of tea which is given to them in ceramic cups saved by Dad in the cupboard.

The doors, grills and windows need painting and so men are hired to scrape and paint. Everyone gets into the spirit of painting -- the gates get included as well. Everything in Goa rusts and therefore painting is important, to keep everything from breaking down.

The trees infront and at the back need trimming and so a slim and lithe man is employed to climb the tree and cut off branches which are lowered gently with a rope. A cousins mango tree is loaded with mangoes. Those to my eye are tile breakers in the kitchen roof. So, I call him and tell him to be careful and replace my tiles if they break while we are away. Oh thats a problem all owners face, he says smartly. Before I bought the place what did you do?

Me? I employed a man earlier and hacked off those branches over our roof I said. There is silence, I see his henchmen come running to check, through the window. I laugh to myself, as I have brought him to heel. No no please don’t cut, he begs, I will look after your roof, . Sure, sounds good I say in a business tone, with visions of my pleading father and the bullying neighbour flashing in my mind.His henchman is told and he agrees.

The side neighbour has cut down our teak trees at the back. She is made to explain why she touched anything on our property. She mumbles and is told don’t touch the cut trees, leave them as they are. She obviously knew selling solid teak would fetch her big money.

The air block causes the water to not flow through the pipes.Since the house is not regularly used, air blocks occur and water stops flowing in taps and toilets. Thankfully water does come in huge quantities so we are not high and dry.

Then the biggest job of all the survey of the properties on the top of the house. Those have been left with no boundaries. Thought the survey man works with his camera and tripod in the shimmering afternoon heat, his umbrella held over his head is prominent and the boys running up and down plotting his marking, work through biting ants and scratching thorns.

The plots are large and we need to enclose them as the greedy cousin is looking at them to acquire for himself. He has already built a car park in one and we have a fight to get him off on our hands. I enjoy walking under the trees, watching the birds flit and call out. The wild flowers on the hillside and the marvelous way in which the plotted marks are made.

A 6 inch dia pipe is put down the marked spot after digging a 12 inch deep hole. Then Cement, sand and jelly are mixed in right proportions and poured down the pipe. The mix is left to set for a bit while a long bit of steel is put down the cement to stick up. The cement cakes and the pipe is removed and just a nice little pillar is left in the ground, with a steel bit sticking up with red paint on it.

The two men work diligently while the surveyor works making his marks, looking at maps and drawings that we have had to procure from the Survey office. How I WISh my father was there with us. He would have been so very happy as he could never do anything alone.

We know if we don’t do it the land will be robbed, as all our children live abroad. No one lives in India among us siblings and the one that does, unfortunately is no support at all. But my husband and I look at Dad and hope that we have at least a few more years ahead to keep going.

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