The other day the Lady of the House was on a war path with all household gadgets and their overall utility. She said “you are converting this house into an electronic graveyard” when you desperately need something it doesn’t work and what works is of absolutely no use to man or beast. I gathered courage and said “sweet heart the 15 Amp power point does not work with the backup inventor supply and you have to wait a little longer to press your clothes”. Not willing to wave the white flag as yet, she continued “I am sure life was never like this with people tied down to gadgets” with that, the argument was put to rest by the LOH.
Even though I did not openly admit the fact that some of us have become ‘Prisoners of Gadgets’, I inwardly agreed with her assessment. We have surrounded ourselves with all sorts of gadgets to make our lives easier, convenient, and entertaining and so on. Gadgets give you speed and efficiency. Be it pressing clothes, grinding for dosa or having a hot bath we are at the mercy of gadgets. Owning gadgets gives you a feeling of material satisfaction and a sense of superiority, especially if your friends do not own it. Till recently the pleasure was even more if the gadgets were foreign. On the negative side it can give you loads of headache, always worrying which gadget will go kaput next. What follows thereafter can be devastating to say the least. Life without the gadget, search for a good repair man (an oxymoron) and finally the bill. I remember life once without a microwave oven. It was a very trying period for me. All and sundry in the colony came to know about this well guarded kitchen secret. There was no peace with so many unsolicited telephone calls giving me advice not only on microwave but on all aspects of life. Finally after three attempts by different rocket scientists I got it going.
Fifty years back the story was entirely different and life was relatively gadget free. Waking up in the morning was bio triggered for my mother and she woke up the rest. To the best of my knowledge there was no alarm in the house. Just prior to the exams my grandfather used to call my name repeatedly like Vishnu Sahsranama till I woke up. A friend of mine, Seetaram had a fantastic counter measure. He would loudly recite Sanskrit shlokas while continuing to be horizontal and go back to sleep as soon as he realised that his grandfather had dropped his guard. Today I wake up for the first time at 0545h to music from cell phone belonging to the LOH. ‘You never know when these gadgets fail’ fear being uppermost she would have set an additional alarm on my cell phone for 0600. If it’s an extremely important day at the school then the land line telephone would also be activated. When we were posted in Nigeria, our unaccompanied baggage containing the alarm took some time to arrive. Our Nigerian domestic help Miss Patience used to stand outside our window and keep saying amma, amma, amma till LOH got up. That for you was the African alarm system.
While posted in Riga – Latvia an acquaintance - a Russian naval officer had a habit of frequently boasting about the engineering achievements of Communist Soviet Union – their KM 8 kitchen Mixers, Zenith Cameras, washing machines and the rest. One day he asked me “what do you have in India” to which I told him we have a very advanced machine which washes clothes – dishes – sweeps and swaps, a three in one, surprised he asked me “what is the name” and I replied “Ganga Bai”
There were no geysers to be switched on. The bathing systems consisted of a very large copper vessel (Hande) enclosed on all sides in bricks and cement in such a way only the mouth on top and the front of the vessel were left exposed. It was my father’s duty to put saw dust (Hottu) the previous night in the opening and light it. The shavings would burn slowly through the night and the water would be warm in the morning. Then my father would put four to five wooden sticks (Sowde) into the system which would make the water piping hot. My father on Sundays used to roast sweet potato and onions in the fire. I am sure you cannot achieve this feat in a geyser. Mistakenly a log of sandalwood once made its way into my grandparents place instead of normal firewood. Every morning my GF used to burn a few of these sticks and the entire house would smell of sandalwood. Those were the days before carbon footprint, Jairam Ramesh and Barkha Dutt. Since then we have become very modern and today we have solar heaters and the conventional geyser as back up.
If the water finished, one went to the well to replenish. Most of the houses in Shankarpuram had wells. Drawing water was a strenuous exercise if one was talking in terms of 20 buckets from a well fifty feet deep. Today I do not even switch on the pump as it has been fitted with an auto starter. Well well.
In the absence of an Iron my father used to nicely fold his washed shirts and trousers and keep them below the bed. Abracadabra – next day they came out nicely pressed. Vacuum cleaner has entered the house but fortunately the broom stick continues to rule.
The kitchen had no gadgets. No conventional ovens, microwave, mixer, food processor, toaster, gas, hobs, Faber fans, refrigerator and pressure cookers. Yet the best of food came out from the olden day kitchens. Today everybody has every gadget but no time to cook or on diet. Eventually my mother became a victim of gadgetitis which started attacking all middle class housewives in the late sixties. Gas, pressure cooker and mixer walked in. During the 1971 Indo Pak war I was on the Eastern Seaboard. I was continuously at sea and did not step ashore for four months and eventually came on leave with all my pay intact. I decided to present my mother with a fridge. After much discussion and debate we finally bought an Alwyin - 95 litres fridge for Rs 710. In an instant my mother was a celebrity in the area and the children started calling her ‘Ice Lalithamma’ as she used to dispense ice water to many children returning thirsty from games. After 30 years I got it overhauled and gifted it to an NGO ‘Ananya’ for their children. Soon thereafter, our opposite neighbour, not to be left behind went and bought a fridge.One morning she came running to our house panting and told my mother "Lalithamma whenever I open the fridge door a light comes on".
How can anyone forget the all important Usha sewing machine – the queen of all gadgets. Owning an Usha was a sure way of attracting neighbours envy especially if it was leg operated and came with an electric motor.
Once upon a time Bengaluru had lots of lakes, trees, gardens and sparrows. The weather was excellent round the year and there were no fans. Come 1982 we had ceiling fans fixed in all the rooms.2005 was the year of air conditioning.
Electronic gadgets deserve a special mention. Arrival of our first radio was an event comparable to home coming of a new born. Bangalore Press almanac was consulted to determine the time of its entry and switching on. We were prepared for its arrival for almost a month. Where should be the location of the Murphy, which table it should rest on, where the aerial will be fixed and so on. Mother dear had already decided on the menu for the big event. In addition to the usual fare, bisibele hulianna, puri sagu and sandige were included. I was told repeatedly by father that I should not touch the radio at any cost. The instructions were crystal clear – stand clear and just listen. Along the way the poor radio lost its position of pre eminence. It had to share berth with the transistor, two in one, record players, walkman, cell phones, I pods, TV and computer.
Today, gadgets are so easily available owning them is no longer the privilege of the few. My cook bought a cell phone earlier than me. I have also become a victim of gadgetitis. In the last one year, I have acquired a tandoor oven, bread maker and an ice cream machine. Recently, I mentioned the need to buy an Electronic Kitchen Weighing Machine and the LOH categorically stated “either you stay in the house or the EKWM, once and for all decide for yourself “.
Next time you feel like buying a new gadget ask yourself “do I really need this” before your LOH gives you an option.
My sister in law once remarked that in order of imporatance of gadgets in the house - fridge takes the first place, followed by cooking gas and the poor husband stands third.