I finally got to be the owner of my very first ‘serious’ consumer durable: a refrigerator. For many years, I had been staving off this basic purchase, relying on a much-used hand-me-down that has served me faithfully and uncomplainingly. But now it was time to ring out the old. So there I was at a fancy showroom in the nouveau riche GK-II market, where the salesmen were trying hard to blank out their looks of disdain because I was clamouring for the “cheapest” model.
The cheapest wasn’t cheap actually, but I was feeling particularly reckless. A few of my friends had already warned me that the GK markets stocked only high-end models; for People Like Us, they advised, there were shops like Pankaj Electronics in the more downmarket Yusuf Sarai.
I emptied out half my salary from my handbag. “You will deliver it, of course?” I asked the floor manager, almost bursting with pride at my new acquisition. “Obviously,” he said. “We will get your model from New Friends Colony, and deliver it between seven and eight in the evening.” It was 2 pm, on a Sunday. Drat, I thought, there goes my plan for stocking up: right out of the refrigerator door. And drat again — I’d planned to go out in the evening.
I stayed home Sunday evening, waiting for my ‘white good’. The deliveryman came at a quarter past eight. He heaved my gleaming new fridge into its new home. Then he turned around and informed me: “The engineer has a holiday on Sundays: he can only come tomorrow to install.” Engineer to install a fridge? I suddenly had visions of on-campus recruitments at the IITs. Designation: engineer. Job profile: installing refrigerators.
“What rubbish,” I said, “I don’t need an engineer. You just need to plug it in.” “No madam,” the deliveryman countered conscientiously. “It’s company policy; besides, it’s complicated, not something you and I can do.” Electrical engineering has never been my strong point, so I shut up. Five in the evening the day after would be installation time. Stocking up plans? In cold storage, again.
The next day, I got caught up with work. It was getting close to five. I realised what a problem it can be if you are single and have no support system — no mother/father/brother/sister living in the same city — to take care of the essentials of domesticity while you slave away for a living. I couldn’t possibly ask my landlord to supervise the installation.
So I called my landlord’s Man Friday. “In case some ‘engineer’ comes looking for me, ask him to hang on, will you?” I told him. “Didi,” he said plaintively, "somebody came at 3 pm, looking for you, said he wanted to install a washing machine." That would be the fridge, I told him. And damn, damn, damn, I thought to myself.
One more call to the fancy refrigerator store — after I threw out the mouldy bread and rotten tomatoes. They apologised profusely. Next day, GK’s answer to Nandan Nilekani would come on time, they promised.
I took no chances. I told a friend to go over to my place and wait for him. This time, he came late — at 7 pm, instead of 5 pm By then, my friend was complaining bitterly, muttering aloud some macro-economic theory about ‘disguised unemployment’ in India. And I’d acquired a splitting headache.
The engineer sauntered in, picked up the wire, plugged it in: and voilà, my fridge gently gurgled to life. The wonders of electrical engineering. Thank God for IITs.
Email Sushmita Bose: firstname.lastname@example.org