I once worked construction as a carpenter's assistant for several summers, and roofing figured amongst my tasks several times. I was the hoofer, not the roofer. That meant I had to hoof the packs of roofing shingles up the ladder, rectangular patches of bitumen covered with a greyish green grit which came in foot high stacks which were held together with heavy duty plastic bands. Those suckers were heavy, and it was North Carolina and it was 90 degrees and humid and the felt was hot and the shingles were hot and it was hot, heavy, and precarious work, clambering up the ladder sideways and placing the packs in staggered locations so the real carpenters could do their work.
In addition to being hot (catch my drift?), laying a roof is also precise work. The carpenters measured the distance from the edge of the roof to the crown, and made marks up the roof. Using a snap line with blue chalk, they would snap off guidelines at regular intervals upon which they would lay each course of shingles. Each shingle was in two parts, a solid upper area and then three slatted flaps. The idea was to lay a solid course at the edge (I can't remember if they flipped the shingle around or perhaps had solid ones). Then you followed with staggered shingles for each course such that the slats overlapped (see graphic).
What was critical was that at no time would there be hole or a crack where water could run down the slit (even though there was roofing felt and then plywood under that). Therefore you had to make sure that you had carefully measured from the crown to the edge, from one side to the other and at what interval you had to snap a line.
Accuracy was absolutely critical, as I found to my detriment when after a time the carpenters asked me to snap to a mark on the other side of the roof (after a break in lugging up bales of shingles). They were trying to speed things up and lay two courses at a time. I aligned it to the lower mark (ie. the wrong mark). They had laid about three or four shingles on the second course when they noticed my mistake, and to put it lightly, they were not well pleased. They had to rip up (and toss) the shingles they had already laid, and patch up the felt underneath with tar, which took a while (you can't have any possible holes as nailholes will let in water...obviously).
For this bonehead move I was exiled to do every shitty task they could think of, and they didn't help me one whit with lugging up the bales (which they had been doing, for navigating the top of the ladder had proved tricky and more than a little dangerous). Later in the day they relented, and I started nailing courses, but they had the last laugh, making me nail one course on a very steeply pitched side roof where they hooked me up to a harness in case I slipped, with the odd good-natured (sort of) tug every now and then to keep my interest up.
Needless to say, I never made that mistake again, and whenever I snapped a line, on a roof or not, I made damn sure what mark I was snapping to, and would eyeball it before acting.
A well-engineered and precisely constructed roof will effortlessly and unobtrusively do the job it was intended to do, which is to allow gravity to do its work and guide water off the roof to another destination, keeping the occupant underneath dry as a bone and none the wiser.
Any imperfection, a hole in the shingle or the felt beneath, a dip where water will congregate or an angle which will divert a drop from its intended course...any imperfection which stops the liquid on its downward trajectory or causes blockages can have disastrous consequences, especially when put under duress, as when drops turn to rivulets which turn to cascades.
A good roof is a thing of beauty, a congregation of angles and lines, a triumph of form and function, and sometimes, as a bonus, a colourful counterpoint to the surrounding foliage.
And a bad roof? Well, a bad roof is just bad, a big fat case of why bother.
The roofs of England are quite different, as one can easily attest by flying over any city. The roofs are made of either slate or (more likely) masonry tiles which are hung on battens (no snaplines there). They are heavy and unwieldy and durable. The are designed to last, built for distance not speed, tailored to deal with unpredictability of a sure thing, the English weather, and the inevitably of long grey skies laden with water in infinite varieties.
They are also a bugger to cut (US shingles can be cut with a Stanley knife). I know, because I have laid a roof in England as well, in my back garden on a nuclear-hardened shed referred to as the Shed D'Oeuvre (chef d'oeuvre, get it?). But that is another story.
Well, let me continue with a quote from Immanuel Kant, who observed that "out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made."
The first thing I noticed when driving from the airport in Goa to Panaji, the capital of the state, was just how irregular the roofs were. What started as a casual observation turned into a detailed examination which developed into a statistical certainty as we went around.
Not only are the roofs not straight or uniform, they are idiosyncratic in the extreme. They meander. They sag. They undulate. They may start with a certain material or type of tile, then change to tin or back again. They are riven with holes. There are leaves in random places, half broken tiles perched precariously (why haven't the monsoons washed this all off?). There are bits of plastic jury rigged at random spots. There are trees growing out of joints.
And I am not talking about ramshackle huts in villages or isolated examples or types of buildings. I am talking about everywhere. The city. The suburbs. Villages. The beach. Residential homes. Stores. Schools. Temples.
I could have taken photos of hundreds of examples, but that would have made me officially a holiday bore, or perhaps a slightly deranged obsessive.
So I limited myself to a few to illustrate the point and instead use this to make an observation about the Indian psyche (or indeed society).
Life here, it appears to me, is straining at the seams. It is hot. It is dusty. It lacks a basic working infrastructure. Roads are clogged. Rubbish is not collected, it collects. There seems to be very little joined up thinking. There is a surfeit of people doing redundant jobs (such as a ratio of 6 to 1 waiters in a restaurant still taking 45 minutes to deliver two mango lassis and two sandwiches.)
But the main thing is that it built out of the crooked timber of humanity. The stacks of bricks in the villages are handmade. So, I suppose, at the tiles. The ditches along the road are being dug by hand, in one instance by a woman who had her child slung across her shoulder. (Imagine the impudence of me complaining about a hot summer's days work as a student).
There is an element of oh-what-the-hell to the execution of any task of construction, where results never meet intentions, where time (or indifference) or sheer lack of resources exaggerate shortcomings, where construction funds never quite reach their destination.
This is true of much of what I observed; pavements which stopped for no apparent reason, narrow roads that were never designed for the six abreast traffic of pedestrians, motorbikes, cars, lorries, motorbikes, and pedestrians.
But all this is most easily viewed in that very basic of human shelter needs: a roof overhead.
I wonder what happens when it rains.