This weekend as usual I read the newspaper supplements, namely the Times of India Crest Edition where they had two articles that sparked my curiosity, one was how the notion of DIY (Do it yourself) is catching up in India, and another one, far more interesting about why DIY isn’t really part of the lives of the middle class Indian. You can read the whole article here.
But one extract caught me chuckling, let me share it with you :
“Mrinal Sarkar, a 50-year-old homemaker, wakes up three times every morning - once to give the car keys to the cleaner, once to open the door for the gardener and third to let the domestic help in. In between opening and closing the doors from 6-to-8 am, she likes to sneak back under the covers, like the snooze button on the phone alarm.
The cyclical sequence more or less continues through the day with almost hourly pilgrimages to the door for the retinue of the garbage guy, the cook, the driver, the dhobi, the sabziwala and the presswala. Any average day at a well-to-do household in India is punctuated by the doorbell. And it can be concluded that more the number of doorbells in a day, the better off the household.”
Not to long ago I wrote about how I welcomed the fact we moved into a less glitzy fancy building because the doorbell suddenly went mute too. In my old building the constant “ding dong” in the morning was driving me up the walls and even putting the garbage bag outside the door would not even prevent the garbage collector from ringing it to still ask if I had garbage to dispose of.
But this set aside this article reflects what I have been dealing with since moving to India.
You see in Switzerland we are hard-core DYI people, and I suddenly found myself in a land where when you are of a certain social level you aren’t supposed to do things, and just be home the whole day waiting for people to do the things for you. While granted that having a maid come in daily to help with the cleaning is almost necessary considering how fast the dirt piles up, and that for a girl like me who hates and truly abhors ironing (remember I once said I’d rather scrub the toilet than iron clothes) having a pressing service is nice. I can if needed, do without, judging by the tale of horrors some of my Indian neighbours told over the year feeling stuck with household when the maid got sick and cursing said hired help for not showing up I never completely related to that, because for me if the maid doesn’t show up, it sure is an inconvenience, but definitely not the end of my world the way some ladies around here would have wanted me to believe.
For me the fact that when a pipe burst or something need to be put on the wall is far more of an issue in India than the maid playing no show for a few days. Because thanks to the fact that hardware stores are in creepy places, still the bastion of male hood and tools not always affordable or quality meant that I have to wait for a handyman to deign showing up to my place to do the fixing, a thing that can take days, when if I had the proper tool and easy access to parts would have been solved in 5 minutes. As like every respected Swiss girl of my generation I know how to handle tools and fix stuff. You see where I come from when you move out of the parental home you start by doing a pilgrimage to IKEA to get yourself all the basic furniture you need since that’s the only store that will not put a dent in your meagre new grown up budget, you then proceed to the home essential and decor section in the same store to get yourself the “Kitchen starter box” that contains all the basics a fresh out of the nest 20 something will need to cook in their studio apartment, and on the way back home stop to a hardware store to buy yourself the standard life saving equipment: hammer, cutting pliers, flat pliers, a set of screwdrivers or best a sturdy one with a set or interchangeable head, a measuring tape and of course the good old plastic tool box to put it all in and keep it handy at home. Power tools such as a drill comes in or later or in my case still had enough friends and family around within a short distance ready to lend theirs.
You earn your stripes by setting up your home, save all the oh so practical Allen keys coming with each pack of Swedish furniture, drill holes in your wall yourself to mount your shelves, cook your first meal from scratch in the starter box items and you suddenly feel like a grown up to take seriously.
Not to say that any of us didn’t already have a brush on with tools, and household chores before moving out. I like all kids in my homeland went through several rite of passage: the time you are old enough to be sent doing the grocery for mom, the time your parents decide it is time to include you into the remodelling of the kitchen/bedroom/living or building shelves for the family boat, so that you get to know what tools look like, the day you hit the teenage years and you suddenly want to change the wallpaper in your bedroom and your dad says, “Ok fine you can use your Fall school break to do that” which in my case meant driving to a home depot kind of store, buy my big girl wallpaper and the tools necessary to remove my old one. My dad giving me a 5 minutes demo on how to remove old wallpaper using a sponge and a spatula rather than renting the steaming machine to do it. Then him to tell me to go to the hardware store buy some ceiling dispersion and another pot of acrylic paint to repaint the radiator, which again he briefly taught me how to do myself, the only thing he did himself but not without letting me off the hook was apply the new wallpaper. He applied it on the walls, I was to prep the sheets on the gluing table, and finally he was the one to teach me how to remove an old wall to wall carpet without causing any damage to the flooring underneath long before I decided to do an apprenticeship as a decorator. His reasoning like the reasoning of many parents, is that it is fine to have some desires to change your room as a teen, but one need to learn the value of the hard work involved in doing so, or in any handiwork. You see back home we think that if you personally applied some sweat and elbow grease doing any kind of work you respect the outcome even more and keep it neat and tidy. I have no idea if that notion is present anywhere else in Europe, but the Swiss do value hard work big time. Small services are or non-existent or cost a lot. A maid service means a cleaning lady coming once a week for one or two hours to do heavy cleaning like the bathrooms if the person hiring her cannot do it themselves for a reason or another, and that cost as much if not more than what I pay for my maid here in India to come in daily and cook on top of it.
People fortunate to have a house in Switzerland usually do all the gardening including the lawn mowing themselves, and if still fit enough will even cut their own edges because buying the electric saw to do it is still cheaper than hiring a professional. And as a decorator I worked for the rich Elite, very few even have a full time maid, and even if they do I have seen more than my fair share of millionaire’s wife still doing the dusting and cleaning.
We are all basically taught to function in an independent manner from a very early age. That said my living in India for so long has made me realise that some services like home deliveries of groceries (practically non-existent back home) has some advantage if you are sick, or the load is too heavy for you to carry all by yourself, but I am still yet to bend in to the “call the store and have them deliver just the milk” mind-set, I had people question why I bothered at all going to the kirana store while pregnant to buy a pack of cookies and a bottle of limca I suddenly found myself craving, the store was down the street mind you. And my reply was “I’m pregnant, not invalid, beside walking is good for everybody”.
My reasoning with the whole kirana store thing, is that if I can’t find myself motivated enough to go walk there myself it means I am not desperate enough for whatever I wanted to buy in the first place.
Both articles in that supplement highlighted what I have been wondering for years: “The day IKEA will finally come to India, will it even be a successful concept?” India is not a country with a DYI culture, and IKEA will still be seen as a “luxury” brand rather than the “Democratic design store” it is abroad, those who will be afford to buy IKEA will likely be the one to feel irked at the idea of spending “Good Money” and having to assemble the thing themselves…worse having to go pick the flat box in the warehouse hangar in the store itself. To me it seems that IKEA will have to tweak their die hard DYI formula to suit the Indian market in the same way Pizza Hut had to come with tandoori paneer spicy pizzas and Mc D remove the beef and add a few more veg option to their menu. Without such twists none of these brands could survive in the Indian market.