We’ve simplified our lives by letting go of simplicity.
Time was when all things electrical were coveted and the odd electronic gadget was exulted over. Everything was expensive and families saved for months to buy something as commonplace as a television set.
Now, we pay through the nose to purchase antique telephone instruments with old-fashioned dials, and the only time I’ve seen a phonograph is in The Sound of Music.
Fans were cold compresses on the middle-class forehead. We had five speeds to choose from and risked our necks to wipe its blades four times a year. Their gentle whirring is the last sound I heard before dropping off. We have AC’s now. They make no noise, we can adjust the temperature and humidity of the air they let in, and it’s the company serviceman who cleans its parts. We live in dust-free, sound-free, scent-free tombs.
Soft lighting has made its way into affluent homes. Motion sensor technology automatically turns them on and off when you enter and leave a room. But I bet you can’t see the light fluctuating when you screw up your eyes, as you can with tube lights. You can’t have the luxury of complaining when it blinks fifty times before finally coming on. You won’t have the pleasure of waiting for it to burn out so that you can fiddle with the starter to try and revive it, though you know that’s not going to make any difference. And you definitely cannot switch it on and off, a hundred times a minute, until you’ve achieved the disco effect, or your mother starts screaming at you, whichever comes first.
Cooking was a laborious process. I miss crying my eyes out over a couple of onions I had to mince; electric choppers have taken that joy away. Ovens were for cakes – we used the gas for everything else. Then we started making everything from curries to coffee in the microwave and used gas rings only to boil water. Now AquaGuards have come into being, but I’ve yet to find a water filter that provides as cool and pure a glass of water as that from an earthen matka on a hot summer afternoon.
My grandfather has instilled in me a mortal fear of geysers. Do not leave them on and never touch them with wet fingers. The one in my bathroom today is an insulated contraption that I can (wisdom forbid) bathe with the hand shower if I want to. And the only thing that will explode if I leave it on indefinitely is my electricity bill. My electric razor has taken the risk out of shaving – dropping it on my foot is the only way I’ll ever nick myself. No more for me the rich smoothness of shaving cream. They’ve even made aftershave redundant. My worst grouse however, is with the blow-dryer. Don’t even get me started about beautiful women who would leave their wet hair loose to dry in the morning sun.
Scouring dishes after a meal with a scrubber and some Vim allowed me to experience a ferocity no dishwasher has been able to replicate. Washing machines be gone, I enjoyed slamming wet rinsed clothes on the washerman’s stone in my grandmother’s backyard. Vacuum cleaners have replaced brooms and dusters – but how many of you who use them have had the pleasure of resting your aching joints after a day of spring cleaning, or discovering an old and forgotten photograph or keepsake hiding behind a stack of books?
My family replaced its old ungainly television set with a flat-screen plasma TV. To be honest with you, I’m almost afraid to touch it. No longer can I smack its side with the flat of my hand when the picture isn’t clear. With set-top boxes coming in, I can’t whine about faulty reception during thunderstorms and missing out on a favourite program either. The music system is obsolete – iPods and FM on my cell phone have taken over. I will miss the scratching that I’d hear when I rewound a cassette, and my days of frantically tuning the radio to just the right frequency while I listened to my favourite song, are gone forever.
I knew I’d grown taller when I could finally peer through the peephole when someone was at the door. But we have videophones these days. I knew everyone who lived in my building because every time I had to speak with someone, I’d have to go over and deliver the message myself. But we use intercoms now. I’d jabber with my friends over the telephone for hours on end, comfortably settled in a corner of the sofa, twirling the cord around my finger till the instrument crashed to the floor. But cordless phones are all we have nowadays. And though I admit to owning a cell phone, I must say that there is no sound quite as satisfying as the plink of a one-rupee coin that you dropped into the payphone slot to call home on a rainy evening.
I’m nineteen. Too young to be nostalgic. I’m not against progress either. But I like doing some things myself. I like machines that have a life of their own. I like gizmos that break down every once in a while. I like it when they backfire.
Because they make me laugh. Because they make me realise that I couldn’t do without them. Because they remind me that no matter how complex the machine is, nothing can replace human effort and experience.
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