Cobra Gong – part 1

Statement of Complaint to Building Management

Re: Theft by Ms. Lopa Jana, resident 5C, Ganga Satellite.

My husband and I are residents of Apartment 4B, Ganga Satellite, Koregaon Park, Worli. Mister is retired, formerly branch manager Bank of Baroda. I’m still working in Infant Jesus Senior Secondary school – teacher of chemistry. I called you in today to complain about the activities of Ms. Lopa Jana and her theft of the Cobra Gong from my house. I encourage you to take my statement to the building management committee and take stern action against Ms. Lopa, and compel her to return our stolen property.

Our two boys are now living in Australia and U.K. respectively. We are a decent family, as you can verify by going over monthly maintenance records. Never have we missed a single maintenance payment.

Our boys are busy with their lives. Mister and I – we now have money. We now have time. So every summer we go for vacations. Different place each year. It used to be a family game – spin the globe, select a spot with closed eyes. When the boys were young, they studied about places in this manner. Once the place is chosen then refer to Encyclopedia Britannica and find out as much as you can. Uganda one day, Philippines another.

Now we choose our vacations this way. More or less. Two years ago, we selected Burkina Faso, which was then in state of Civil War. We obviously could not go on that trip. We went instead to Singapore. It is like Bombay, hot during the day and sticky so you feel like bathing two, even three times in a day. Food is okay-okay, big roads, less dirty than India. And so much shopping you can do. If you go to Mustafa in Little India, you can buy everything under one roof. Thirteen floors. Can you believe it?

But this Cobra Gong, I did not find it in Mustafa, or even Little India. I found it in a small gully shop in Raffles Quay. I am just looking here and there, what to buy to take back for the boys, for ourselves to keep in our showcase. Every shop is like it’s neighbor shop – same little Buddha statues, wall hangings, pagoda shaped wind chimes.

Then I spot it – a brass bowl, the outer metal shaped into a coiled cobra. It comes with its own mallet. I hit the mallet on the rim and shuffle it along, the way the shopkeeper shows me and it’s the most beautiful sound I’ve heard in my life. Deep, echoing, like the sound of temple bells in Uttarkashi, except it emanates from this small cobra gong that I hold in the palm of my hand. I must have it, I tell my husband. He bargains with the Chinese shopkeeper like it was a shop in Andheri and gets it for SG$ 12, about 550 rupees. The shopkeeper wraps it in red crepe paper – separate one for bowl, separate for mallet. He puts it in a black cardboard box. Throughout the flight back, I keep thinking of the Cobra gong. It’s mine, I think. It’s mine.

Except now it’s not. This item worth 550 Rs is now stolen from our house and in the possession of Ms. Lopa Jana.

Let me tell you why I’m saying that.

Ms. Lopa is also a retired bank employee, just like my husband. She worked for many years in a different bank – State Bank of Travancore. She is unmarried. Since we live in the same building for many years, we have met her on occasion – she stops to wish us for Dussehra, New Year, she once received a registered parcel on our behalf. We have also on several occasions helped her. Two years ago, her gas cylinder ran out in the middle of Ganesha festival. At such short notice, who would have come to drop a cylinder to her apartment? I lent her my spare cylinder for a few days. Mister went with the chowkidar and dropped it off.

In those days, I did not realize what her true nature was. But after Mister’s retirement last May, she started coming to our house even when I was not there. I don’t know what they had to discuss every single day but when I came back from work, he would be excited, saying Lopa came by, Lopa gave this, Lopa gave that. Home made nan khatais, masala peanuts that sort of thing. Even that – I think, no problem. Two ex-bank employees, India’s economy is going crazy after all the currency change, they might have many topics to discuss.

But in time, I started noticing things. On one or two occasions, I felt she was copying me. Last year, during October Diwali sale at Co-Optex, I bought a red checked Kalakshetra saree. Two months, what do I see during New Years day celebration in the building? She’s wearing the same saree and posing in the front row as if she is some film star. No shame also. She tells me I like your saree so much, I bought the same for myself.

I signed up for Annual Balcony Garden Competition. Two days later, her name is also on the list. India is a democracy, what can you really do? You can’t got tell her, no you can’t join Annual Balcony Garden Competition just because Mrs. Deshpande has signed up for it. I keep quiet.

One day, last month, I’m looking at the showcase, and I see it has not been dusted nicely in days. I must have a talk with the servant – Baby. She probably treats my house like a vacation spot. I am not home to notice things, Mister is too busy watching TV and talking to Ms. Lopa. She probably doesn’t do any work when I’m not around.

I’m thinking all these things, and that’s when I notice.

The Cobra Gong is gone.

So I ask Mister, “Where is the Cobra Gong? It is not in showcase?”

He looks away from the TV, and at me, as if I have ten horns on my head.

“Cobra Gong. Gone.” I repeat loudly, pointing to the showcase.

Mister says, “Look properly, should be here only. You think it sprouted legs overnight and ran away? Silly woman.”

I look everywhere. In the almirah, behind the trunk, under the divan. It is so loud, I don’t think it accidentally fell down and rolled under the bed.

That morning, I call the school I will be late, and I stay till Baby comes in.

She doesn’t know. “Is this a statue of Mother Mary or what? Why will I take your gong, madam?” she asks. It is true, I hadn’t thought of it. Baby is a born again Christian. She will not touch Hindu/Buddhist items. It is against her religious beliefs.

Still how can something just disappear like that? It is not even anything especially valuable, though it is very pretty.

Despite what she says, for a few days, I still watch Baby. Maybe she took it and sold it in some second hand shop? But Baby flies through my house like she is a cyclone. She has a second shift job at the Steel factory which pays her daily wages and by the hour. I tell her to stop and drink some chai, she tells me, “Some other day, madam, no time.” She doesn’t have time to steal and resell petty objects.

But Baby helps me in other ways. She helps me identify the thief.

to be continued… dunn dunn dunn

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