Monday, March 29, 2010

India - The land of the pampered

The better half and I had been to IKEA today. For the uninitiated, IKEA is a gigantic, nay, Herculean, store that sells everything you will ever need for your home. From a bed, desk, table, chair, shelf, clock to coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, china for the kitchen, cabinets for the clothes – all of this is on their extremely diverse inventory. Curtains, carpets, vases, flower pots, cutlery, coat hangers – the list is endless. In fact, if you, right now, look around where you are sitting at your home and name any object you see there, chances are IKEA has it. Not just in at least five colors, but also in various designs. The trick really is to try and walk away from something while convincing oneself that it was a useless item. This, since everything there seems to be designed to entice your buying bone. I was half-joking with her that the reason there were so many stroller-stroking mothers around was because of this 'everything can be used' syndrome that infants tend to automatically ignite in parents. A worthless seeming basket that was too small to hold anything earlier suddenly becomes a top priority since you think its a great way to store the baby's socks or diapers! As I said, a bizarre emotion only kids seem to have the ability to create. Nevertheless, IKEA, in my humble experience, is still the best when it comes to prices. So regardless of what personal opinions might echo, the store still manages to attract loads of clientele each day.

But then there is a flip side to this too. A rather big one at that. Specially if you are someone like me whose only handyman skill includes driving nails into a wall with a hammer. Even that, rather cautiously. Every furniture item that IKEA sells is bought in pieces. What this means is – you buy a bed but in separate parts that constitute the entire bed. You then assemble the whole thing yourself. Aha! Didn't I tell you this was a big flip? I still have unpleasant memories of the time when I had to lug two giant shopping carts filled with extremely heavy wooden panels for my wardrobe, dining table and chairs back in 2008. Not only did I have to literally pull out each screw that the damned bookshelf needed, I even managed to mess up the sequence of components that I required, given the sudden jump in my stress levels that day. Having never carried anything over 20-25 kilos my whole life – again, owing to baggage restrictions while traveling in Europe – you can imagine why lugging a 10 feet high and 3 feet wide door pieces was such a high ask.

Now, in retrospect, I see why this entire exercise seemed like such an ordeal. Growing up back home the second most important thing to us as a family (the first one, quite obviously, being able to continue getting good marks in school) was a kaamwaali bai – a maid. It would send shivers of shock down our pampered spines if the clock went a few minutes past 9am and there was no sign of her. I can still recall my anxious mother, fists clenched, pacing the verandah of our flat, constantly checking if she could spot the lady entering the building with her usual nonchalant stride. The shriek of glee mom would belt out could only be matched by the arrival of drinking water three times a week when we lived in Madras. Oh yes – water – another major problem of ours. The lack or shortage of which could instantly negate the effectiveness of the aforementioned supreme being – the maid.

This is commonplace in our nation. The value of a maid sometimes being much more higher than gold. There are homes that have more than one maid too. And not even those affluent well to do mansion-wallah chaps who can afford such multiplicity of comforts. No. These are regular middle class folks who shell out anything between 500-1000 Rupees (depending on the area, of course) and bag themselves a good deal. In fact, my wife's home in Mumbai has a separate helper who comes in every day only to make chapaatis! I shook my head in disbelief when she was extremely surprised to hear that there was no such person as a 'milk man' in Denmark who religiously comes each morning to supply milk at the doorstep. Another reason, albeit, for her to pluck her collar and declare India the best nation in the world. 'What big first world nation this is, ah?' she scoffed one evening. 'We have fellows supplying everything from groceries to medicines back home! In fact now clinics too have services where they come to your door and collect blood samples for sugar tests! Can Denmark beat that?'

The obvious reasons for such regal lifestyle back home is the availability of cheap labor. Hand a fellow 10 rupees and he will sweat it out for you. In fact I remember having a shop's helper carry a small computer desk that I had bought for 500 rupees over his head for a good kilometer for 20 rupees. My father, accusing me of having lost worth of real money, told me that 2 rupees was all he deserved.

After my IKEA experience, a lot of this started making sense. I began wondering if this was one of the reasons why Indians aren't exactly the cleanest of the lot. Is it the knowledge that the maid would come the next day and clean up after them that makes them so lethargic about doing the dishes or sweeping the floor? Is it the certainty that handing out a note to the boy at the supermarket will ensure that the poor fellow will sweat a pound from his already skinny structure to carry your bags back to your car? Is this why Indians are reluctant to move to places where the mantra 'do it yourself' is quite prominent? Could this be why we never really learn how to screw in pieces for a table or know how to camouflage the width between the wood and the nail in our lives back home? I don't know. In fact, the autocratic thumb rule that there is always someone to help you if you have the money is so prominent in India, that they don't even include basic carpentry skills in school in any form. Sure, we have music, sports and even arts. But I never heard of a 'Build It Yourself 101' class that could help future immigrants from having to go through the kind of surprises that I had to endure. Maybe the administration ought to think of including it?

On second thoughts though, I don't know if that would do any good. Even if something were in place, how often would we actually get a chance to practice it in real life? Specially when we have everything from a nail to a wardrobe being 'home delivered' for a fee? Unlikely. Highly unlikely.

8 reflections:

Anonymous said...

east or west india is best!!!1 :D

ShaK said...

@Anon - It sure is mate. Thanks!


VividColors said...

I am not sure I would call such culture pampering. What is so wrong if India can afford to have helpers around? Labour is definitely cheap so why not use it? NRIS choose to go overseas so they have to accept life there with everything it offers.


ShaK said...


It appears that you have missed my point completely. I never implied that the cultural 'incentives', as it were, that India offers is a bad thing. In fact, it is one of the higlights of living in the country! What I was trying to point out was how such a life does not lend itself to being able to master 'self-help'. Had there been a course or a class for me in school about building furniture or making desks, I'd gladly accept places like IKEA. But since there isn't - not when I was around anyway - life here becomes, ironically, a tad hard. And yes - I agree with you that NRIs should certainly take what life overseas offers them. :) Been doing it for over a decade now so nothing new there.

Thanks for the response here, friend!



sam said...

Nice piece. Insightful.

ShaK said...


Thank you for the response,friend. I am glad you found it insightful!



Anonymous said...

Good one, again from you boss had lived in canada for 7 yrs and he was telling me how carpentry and gardening had kept him fit while he has lost his muscle mass back in India now.We tend to spend all the time spent in front of TV. On the brighter side, these provides employment to downtrodden people. For e.g.the maid at my house is able to afford convent english education for her son based on the work she is doing in a couple of homes



Vinay said...

Excellent post! First time I've read your blog; you've got a very nice writing style. I agree with you on almost all points that you mentioned in the post; India definitely pampers its children (and their ego's too!)