The Tin Man

It’s always a pleasure to come across someone who enjoys their work, however humble. Lakshmi is a constant inspiration in that regard – a smile is never far from her lips, whether she’s vacating a constipated cow’s rectum or flapping out the chapatti – it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. It’s always good to see her smilingly washing her hands. The other day we met the Tin Man, who clearly also enjoys his lot in life, which mostly consists of banging ‘white sheet’ or chaadhr, 50 mm tin sheets of metal, 8′ by 4′, and shaping them into whatever his customer requires – in our case some chimney flue pipes for the woodburners.

The ‘male’ chimney pipe exiting the woodburner is six inches in diameter, so we repeatedly insisted that the ‘female’ pipe he was about to make for us should be six and a quarter, 6.25, sava che, in as many languages as we could muster. I even cut out a circular piece of card which we explained had to fit inside the pipe he was going to make, without folding it up.

I have learned over the last two and a half, 2.5, dhai, years that not only do you need to get at least three different opinions about anything, preferably from three different people, then take the average and you might get somewhere close to reality, but likewise you need to bang on about details to workmen, should you choose to employ any. I try as far as possible not to rely on external sources and to have a go myself, with a strong dose of Google.

So the Tin Man said yes, yes, yes, he understood – ‘Don’t worry’ – a phrase that whenever I hear it, which is quite often, always sounds alarm bells. A few days later we returned to pick up the pipes which, predictably, were precisely six inches in diameter, that vital quarter inch never made it into the final cut, and therefore the pipes didn’t fit. Fortunately I have a couple of hammers and a strong predilection for bodging, and the pipes may not look as pretty as they might have done but they fit, after a fashion, and the smoke doesn’t come into the room. It’s amazing what a bit of fire cement and stove paint (imported in our luggage) can do.

In a couple of days it will be the autumnal equinox and, as my mother used to say, the nights are drawing in. The monsoon and apple harvest finished a few days ago and although it’s back to being sunny and clear, the temperature’s dropping once the sun goes down. The grass is being cut for the cows’ winter feed, the sweet corn and pumpkins have ripened, the Gujjars are off back down to the warmth of the terai, chutneys, pickles and some cidery-winey concoctions are being produced, and the wood fires beckon.


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