In a new column, 'Category Error', Amruta Patil marries news-triggered observation with fiction, history, philosophy, against the backdrop of an Indian high rise.

Read more from the series here.

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1 | Efficiency of Fascists and Fundamentalists

Two men captured the imagination of the family in A502, Atlantic Co Operative Housing Society: their True Guru, and leader of the nation. The dentist couple, both 60 years old, marvelled at how some people revealed themselves to be pillars of fortitude and certitude in times of crisis. The analogies flying around in all discourse were metallic: steely resolve, iron-fisted leadership.

The youth wing of a religion-based political party was the first to set up a temporary booth to distribute milk and essentials in the parking lot of Atlantis Co Operative Housing Society. Full of gratitude and admiration for their dynamism, dentist-the-wife pleaded with their contrarian, left-liberal daughter to reconsider her harsh stance against the ruling party and be more patriotic in times of a pandemic.

“Fascists and fundamentalists are always efficient!’ bellowed their daughter from behind closed doors. ‘They think like militia and they act like militia. Thank god the majority doesn’t have ‘German efficiency’. We may well be saved by our cavalier sloppiness.”

Quoting an anonymous WhatsApp Good Morning meme that paraphrased a lineup of men he had never heard of — including John Adams, Georges Clemenceau and a mid-19th century French prime minister named François Guizot — dentist-the-husband reassured his wife in unctuous tones:

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2 | The Gamble

It isn’t everyday that you match online with a man who brings into your life both frisson and belly laugh. At the brink of a love affair that is all-potential but hasn’t had ground-time, does one let fate play its course, or step in to assert, to gamble? The lean, sharp man from apartment B603, who had never felt anything like this before, chose to assert and gamble.

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The international size suitcase was snug, but the lean man managed to smuggle his new flame — a foreigner, white — into Atlantis Co Operative Housing Society. A minute away from their mission being accomplished, while they waited for the lift to arrive, his cargo gave itself away by shaking. They were apprehended by the guards in the lobby. The enemies of amour ever multiply. The lean man’s friend, hiking his tee shirt up to cover his nose and mouth, walked five kilometres back to a hotel that would soon close down.

3 | Atithi

She had meant to spend a night-and-a-half here on her way to boarding a Chicago-bound flight back to University, but the Liberal Arts Master’s student found herself a bona fide atithi in her friend’s retired parents’ apartment B201. It was a sejour with no end in sight.

The word ‘guest’ is tied to Old English gæst which means “an accidental guest, a stranger”. The Sanskrit/Hindi word atithi, on the other hand, is etymologically amazing in the way it places the hard work on host not guest: it means “(someone with) no fixed date of arrival or departure”.

A host’s house, the word implies, must keep doors and granaries open — indefinitely — for the person who has shown up.

This sort of a thing is best accomplished in living arrangements that were porous, cushioned by the multitudes — houses with their own fields and milch cattle, joint families where the weight of hospitality didn’t fall squarely onto one set of shoulders or two, epochs when cost of living was not forbidding. Not two-bedroom urban apartments.

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Every morning, the Liberal Arts student flew awake at 5:30 am— something she would never do in her dorm or her parents’ home — acutely aware that neither bed nor indolence was hers to claim rightfully. Every afternoon, she offered to pay for groceries or a Swiggy meal, only to have the offer laughingly declined. Every evening, she slept overcome at the goodwill on offer from people she only had cursory interest in until a few days ago. Every night, she realised the only thing to do when it comes to no-strings-attached generosity, is to pay it forward, not pay it back.

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Writer-painter Amruta Patil is the author of graphic novels Kari, Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean, Sauptik: Blood and Flowers, and Aranyaka: Book of the Forest. On Instagram: @amruta_gauri