Monday, July 3

Let her go

Have you noticed how we throw things out a lot more than before? Of course, city-dwellers like us have more, now that disposable incomes are the norm. Does it also allow us to dispose of things so easily? I was the object of much mirth/ridicule at work today because I wanted to get a golf umbrella repaired. One colleague wondered if it was worth the effort, another asked why I did not just buy a different one while others chuckled when they realised neither of these thoughts had occurred to me. I trudged off, wondering if they were right. What exactly was driving me to take the trouble?

I think back to to the 80s and living in my Thatha's (grandpa) house. Today's 'use-and-throw' culture would have shocked him to the core. The man was the epitome of prudence. Since we weren't exactly floating in doubloons, the family followed suit. Thatha wore the same watch for over 50 years. A small umbrella, bought by my mother with her first salary, was well on its way to becoming an heirloom, having seen and survived more than 25 monsoons. There's a clothes cane (you know, to hoist clothes onto a rope strung close to the ceiling in the verandah) which is older than me. I reckon it's in better shape than I am. And don't even get me started on how long those of us who internalised Thatha's spirit of frugality make our clothes last! That's a family disease.  

Anyhow, in Mumbai, a regular umbrella is as effective as an actual fig leaf. So, some years ago I paid up the subscription towards procuring a big piece that meant business. Undoubtedly it was slightly cumbersome to haul around but the protection offered made it worthwhile. Except at airports. In the jolly times we live in, suspicion is more common than sense and umbrellas of this size can no longer pass off as carry-on baggage. Since it does not fit in the check-in bag, it has to be declared separately and gets to travel as a solo piece of luggage. On a return flight from Madras last year, Go Air ensured that one umbrella reached Mumbai in two pieces. That's customer service for you right there.

I should have thrown it out. I mean, there are only so many things that can be salvaged. The canvas, certain anchoring hooks maybe. But the spinal column is asking for too much, right? Wrong, as it turns out. The thing about Mumbai's ridiculous population is that someone, somewhere still seems to be getting stuff refurbished. Cobblers moonlight as umbrella repairers and make a killing at this time of year. But no one was willing or able to mend one this size. Except a dude chilling out in a temporary, ramshackle, tarpaulin-roofed shop on D.N Road, wouldn't you know. 

What I adore about it... and by 'it' I mean the setup, the work, the transaction... is the utter casualness. There are no airs billowing around it, no attempt to project the repair of an umbrella as a cutesy, artisanal, "let's Instagram the shit out of this quaintness" style abomination that the urban world seems to be steeped in. It's absolutely no-nonsense. The man who repaired my umbrella was as phlegmatic as they come. His experienced eye gave it a once-over and he quietly named a price. The sliver of me that is still 80s middle-class did feebly raise an eyebrow but was quelled immediately by my present-day-pragmatic avatar. He rapidly took the umbrella apart, replaced the column, stitched it up and unfurled it a few times. I paid, awash in wonder and appreciation, confident that Thatha would have beamed in approval.

Don't get me wrong. Even I know some things cannot or should not be patched up. Others outlive their usefulness and can safely make their way out of my life. And maybe some therapy would help me get rid of old clothes instead of thinking of ways to turn them into scrap dishcloths. Hoarding is bad. But I am (surely not a minority) perfectly willing to take a bit of trouble if it will result in less nonchalant dumping. It means a perfectly good umbrella is now resting against a desk, ready to face the rains. 

Pity a battered heart isn't as easily mended.

Song for the moment: Do I wanna know? - Arctic Monkeys

6 comments:

Ashish Kulkarni said...

On the other hand, of course, is the fact that if it were as easily mended, we'd be so much more careless with it

G said...

I'm 5 years past when I'd have agreed with you. Now, I honestly wish I'd been more careless with it; had been told to do that when I still would believe at face value. We did take our selves a little too seriously, no?

Anonymous said...

Won't comment on the part that you've drawn the analogy to. But this disposable culture is possibly the worst malaise that we have picked up in our times, not-entirely-willfully. It has a very real, plausible economic explanation of course, so isn't exactly a phenomenon that warrants too much analysis anymore, on the face of it. But its inevitability and pervasiveness are going to ruin us. There is nothing in it for anyone to admit it, so you don't hear too much about that. But the damage it is causing is irreversible. Socially, culturally, and most importantly, environmentally. Up until the last couple of decades, we had a fairly robust mechanism resisting it; a potent combination of a value system that venerates frugality to a fault and a ridiculously masochistic economic policy. But hedonism and instant gratification have always triumphed eventually, whenever they have come up against, well, anything.

We're doing 90 miles an hour on a dead end street. But I guess there is something to be said about enjoying the rush while its still there.

G said...

@Anonymous - Agree. Sad but true that we're probably over the tipping point on this issue. What (on a long list of other things, of course) gets my goat is how the West (is that a fair classification?) romanticizes simple things like getting stuff repaired. Teeth-grating industry of content will bloom about the most innocuous tat sometimes. Ye gods.

Anonymous said...

The west, of course! That one place on the planet where pretty much all our real present-day problems emanate from. And as you'd expect, they're the ones who are least affected by them.

And don't get me started on the annoying romantic spin they can put on any damn thing. That's the biggest competitive edge they hold over other cultures. A pretty, blue-eyed blond girl at a "quaint" little cobbler's shack, smiling frivolously at an SLR camera in a sepia toned Instagram photo can make you go dumpster diving just so you can fish out an old pair of shoes and get them cobbled.

phann son said...

I can't and won't dispute the fact about testosterone. And sure, gracious or graceless, a loser is a loser. But that isn't where I'm coming from. My takeaway from my sporting heroes is to do your best to win. But don't let your worst side come out to push you over the line when your best isn't enough.


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