May 20, 2008

Cement Work



Cement figures centrally in life here. The road outside our gate that parallels the lovely endemic shola forest across from us is essentially a big, cement block that was laid down on the dirt road that preceded it. The first road crew that laid the road didn't make it wide enough, so subsequent road crews have been commissioned to widen the road by a meter on each side. This has been going on (or, more often, not been going on) since we arrived in Kodai last September. There have been three road crews so far. We're guessing the work will never be completed, which is not necessarily bad news for us--a narrow road makes for slower traffic, and the many electrical poles that abut the original road are not moved when extra meters of cement are added, meaning there are poles coming up out of the widened road, making the whole effort kind of pointless.

After the road widening outside our gate, we had a sharp cliff between the edge of the cement road platform and our dirt driveway, so we asked the fellow who gardens for us to lay a bit of cement driveway. It turns out that when fellows like this gardener who are operating on slim budgets have to do cement work, they mix in A LOT of sand and rocks, to save on the cement cost. I would say our ratio in this case was about 1:50. Needless to say, the mud pie driveway was a mess and did not resemble cement. So, I explained to him that we wanted this one to last through a simple rain shower, let alone a monsoon, and that I'd be happy to buy many bags of cement to make that work. He said, no problem, and set to work. I came out to find a driveway that looked like it was a healthy ratio of cement to sand, say 2:1. We were thrilled until we drove over it a few days later and discovered that he had simply put a thin layer of cement on top of the mud pie drive. Oh well. It looks like we have some masonry in our future.

Cement has also been critical for patching our old (built in 1845) house's walls, as they are red clay with a thin layer of cement, which inevitably cracks, leaving little holes that are perfect for baby fingers to pick at.

We've done some of our own cement work. We recently completed a mosaic of wonderfully pure, unadulterated cement and old tiles that were discarded on our road side, which we hammered into smaller pieces. The mosaic's in the shape of the most simple kolum we know. Kolums are designs done in rice powder on one's doorstep in the morning. They are a sort of visual prayer for the safety and the prosperity of the household. Even though this mosaic kolum is outside our bathroom door and is usually graced with our diaper pail on top of it, we really like it.

The finished product and Liam Kiran doing some tile work: