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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019

Humour: Scheming objects - A cautionary tale

Beware of things that seduce, use and discard you

brunch Updated: Mar 10, 2019 00:02 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Printers just don’t want to work. It’s not us. It’s them!
Printers just don’t want to work. It’s not us. It’s them!(Shutterstock)

I see people in things as much as the next subscriber to anthropomorphism. Trees bewitch. Furniture conspires. Excel sheets stupefy. It’s indubitable that inanimate objects have personalities. But they have intentions too. As the poet Elizabeth Bishop memorably suggests in One Art:

The art of losing isn’t hard
to master;
so many things seem filled with
the intent
to be lost that their loss is
no disaster.

It’s indubitable that inanimate objects have personalities. But they have intentions too

Here’s a short list of things that are especially programmed by the lords of the underworld to perplex innocent humans.

It’s not our fault, I assure you. They’re playing us, these seductive thingamajigs. The earlier we lose them, the better for our overall sense of adequacy and control.


Years ago, when I was discovering how an English major wasn’t magically inducted into a world of multimillion advances and literary soirees, I did my time at an educational sweatshop as a technical writer. As if the work routine wasn’t torture enough, the overlords gave all the underlings extra duties. I was made in charge of printers, no matter that I hadn’t ever used a printer until that point. Every day was an exercise in humiliation. A page stuck. A cartridge gone empty. A button blinking. I’ve never gotten over the trauma. As I write this, a lifeless machine stares at me accusingly from my desk. Printers just don’t want to work. It’s not us. It’s them.

Exercise bikes

I doubt I need to warn any of you about this behemoth. You buy it to atone for a lifetime of bad habits. You bring it home, all high-minded and twinkly-eyed. That first round of rotations puts your head and heart in a happy spin. Like any delusion, it reveals its insidious nature soon enough. First a rucksack jumps onto a cycle arm provisionally. Then your used jeans creep over the other arm casually. Before you know it, the bed cover, belts, and clothes that need to be pressed pile up on the saddle brazenly. A household conspiracy of shocking proportions. Don’t get one. It’ll only make you feel inferior.

Air fryers

This one gets me all philosophical. The object carries within it all the hopes, dreams and desires of our species. It signals the progress of humankind into the idyll of having one’s pakoras and arteries too. I don’t have the scientific data to question its efficacy, but I do have enough experience to point to its diminishing marginal utility. The first batch of French fries promises eternal bliss. Not long after the magic machine crawls into the little dark space below the exercise bike. All those oil-free dreams vanished into thin air.

Mosquito racquets

At some point, we all succumb. The fluorescent rim around the metal netting is admittedly irresistible. You channel your inner Federer, unleash your hidden Steffi. Practice your backhand. Slam away in the near distance, excited by the little joyous crackles that promise bedtime bliss. You plug the racquet in after a triumphant battle with the little warriors. A few nights in, reality sets in. The crackles dwindle as does your zeal; you can thwack away all night and it won’t be enough. The weapon sulks in a disused corner, reminding one of the futility of human effort in an indifferent universe.

The odd brigade

If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve collected some objects whose provenance and purpose you’re not entirely sure of. Like the mini vacuum that plugs into our laptop’s USB slot and pretends to clean the dhokla droppings off your keyboard. I have a stapler that is also a sewing machine, picked up from a Rajinikanth lookalike on Brigade Road in Bengaluru. How not to buy? Then there are those back-scratching pencils. Wooden cars with rotating wheels that claim to be back massagers. Egg cups. Bookmark lamps. I’m no uncluttering zealot like Marie Kondo – we are our clutter, are we not? But I’ve learned my lesson about objects that seduce, use and discard us. Long have I suffered the guilt that these dark temptations spawn, but I live to tell the tale. Let the right clutter into your homes, innocent fellow humans! The scheming armies are forever at your doorstep.

From HT Brunch, March 10, 2018

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First Published: Mar 09, 2019 21:49 IST

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