Pastry and the Progress of Civilisation

On the weekend gone by, I was attending a class on how to cook Hokkaido Cheese Tarts and Xiao Long Bao, the famous and delicious soup filled dumpling. The class was a birthday present from my darling wife, and as birthday presents go, has been the best one since she got me Ticket to Ride, which continues to provide hours of fun to this day. In time to come, the ability to make xiao long bao or cheese tarts may provide more cumulative pleasure and meaning than Ticket to Ride. But why speculate? For now, I shall write about the insights I gained during the class.

As I went through the class, the teacher pointed out that xiao long bao, for all its fame, does not have particularly exotic or expensive ingredients. It’s made with flour, minced pork, gelatin, and the same seasoning ingredients – sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and salt and pepper – as are found in any East Asian chicken. The only really unusual ingredients are yeast and gelatin, which are procured easily enough. The reason you have to pay almost a dollar a dumpling, said Ms Tan, is that making the dumplings is both time consuming (you start the night before by adding yeast to the flour) and highly skilled; and that restaurants have to scour China to find skilled dumpling makers. Xiao Long Bao, she said, was all about the people making it, and not about what they were making it from.

This, I realised, is an interesting parallel to my older aunts’ and uncles’ idea of a good time. But as I thought more about it, I also realised that it is brought about by dramatically different circumstances. Let me elaborate.

My older aunts and uncles, all born before 1947, started adulthood as post-Partition refugees in Jammu and Delhi. Those were bleak years, not just for refugees, but for India as a whole. Material luxuries were scarce, or didn’t even exist. Automobiles and telephones were on a waiting list. Fruit and butter were major treats. But even with fruit, variety was limited; and so the treat was more to have a lot of a single kind of fruit, than to have many different kinds of fruits.

The thing that wasn’t scarce in those days was people. And so for my older relatives, their idea of luxury involves people doing work for them. The more work, the better. For my bua, bliss is having her driver drive around in the rains with no destination in mind. The driver, who has to control the car in miserable weather and driving conditions, may disagree. But anyhow. As they – and India – became richer, they started treating themselves to newly available material goods as well, but never quite lost the habit of thoroughly enjoying themselves by getting other people to do the work on their behalf.

Today, the situation is dramatically different. Free economies, free trade, and internet shopping, among other things, mean that we are spoiled for choice when it comes to material things; and they all cost much less thanks to the Chinese manufacturing miracle. Smartphones and motorcycles are within everyone’s reach! There are five different kinds of grains in the market. The fruit shop has fruits from all over the world, and farmers in Uttarakhand are now growing zucchini. What a cornucopia!

The trouble with cornucopias is that if everyone1 can have a smartphone, a smartphone ceases to be a signal of status and wealth. So if displaying your status and wealth is important to you, you can’t really do it with material things; unless you get really rare and exotic material things. Or, you could buy things which require something else scarce to make them – that is, skills. Such as xiao long bao.

So, sixty years ago, when money was limited, but things you could buy with it were even more limited, the only way you could show off was by buying labour. Today, money is widespread, things you can buy are even more so; and so the only way to show off is again by buying labour. What a full circle, and what a sandwich generation it makes those people who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s and could impress others with laptop computers or automobiles.

This is possibly overgeneralisation, but I think there’s another difference between buying labour in a scarcity era and in a post-scarcity era. In the scarcity era, you paid for conspicuous waste, like having five domestic servants run around to find your glasses; while in the post-scarcity era you pay for conspicuous skill2 like folding the perfectly symmetrical dumpling. Which brings us back to the class.

At the end of the class, I can testify to the importance of skill. Making the dumpling dough is easy enough, and the stuffing is even easier. But picking out the perfect quantity of dough, rolling it out into a flat disk that’s thinner on the edges, and then folding the disk into an aesthetically pleasing dumpling are skills that take probably take months of practice to get right. Frustrated at my fumbling efforts, Ms Tan frequently took over the doug rolling herself, and the bun folding even more so. About twenty dumplings in, my folding technique finally became adequate, if not good. It was hard to overcome habit and heed Ms Tan’s advice to do the folding right rather than do it quick3.

During the class, demonstrating a method of squeezing out dough, and noting my Indian origins, Ms Tan told me that it was the same method as would be used in making pratas. Too embarassed to admit that I have never made a paratha by hand, and buy frozen ones from packets when forced to make them for myself; I merely nodded; but this observation, coupled with her comments about xiao long bao being all labour and skill and not material cost, made me remember a classified advertisement that had gone viral a few years ago.

I’m not sure if the classified was real or a photocopied joke, and I can’t even find the image any more, so I’m describing it from memory. It was in Tamil, and listed several job openings, along with the salary offers against those openings. Beginner software engineers, or something similarly white collar, were being offered 8000 rupees a month. A parotta master (or perhaps it was a dosa master) was being offered something much higher – ten or twelve thousand rupees a month. In general, people were amused at a blue collar occupation making much more than a white collar occupation. Further commentary, if any, focused either on the utter commodification of IT skills, or on pointing out that domestic and cooking skills were actually in very short supply and worth paying for. But it was only on Sunday that I realised that Douglas Adams too had made a pertinent comment on the situation, many years before the classified had come out. It is this quote from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series:

The history of every major Galactic Civilization teds to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?’

So yes, a parotta master making more than a software engineer has a lot to say about the dignity of blue collar jobs, the commodification of coding skills, the changing demographics and economic fortunes of South India, and our tendency to carry around too many expectations. But at a very big picture level, it also suggests that South India, as a civilisation, has started the transition from Inquiry to Sophistication. Hurray!

Ten Minutes in the Kitchen

My blog is at risk of sounding like a paid promotion for Philips. A day after writing about buying Philips LED bulbs, I am now writing about their new ad campaign to promote self-examination for breast cancer. Rest assured, though, that it’s just a coincidence, and do consider that I have been blogging so little that I don’t think Philips would even bother paying me.

Anyway. I saw the campaign being mentioned on social media about a week ago, at which time I quickly scrolled past. Then I saw a print ad on the weekend, and successfully ignored that. However, this evening, I heard a radio spot, got intrigued, and came back to look for the video spot. Here it is. It combines some of my favourite things: communicating without speaking, yuppie couples, and kitchens.

The radio ad I heard this evening isn’t quite as impressive. For starters, the husband in the radio ad seems far less competent. Unlike his counterpart in the TV ad, he can’t just make food by himself. He calls up his wife to ask for the recipe for dal. This left me wondering:

  • Why on earth do you need a recipe for dal of all things?
  • If you have to call up your wife to get instructions for making dal, don’t you end up wasting almost as much time of hers, and possibly more, as you save by making dal?
  • Seriously, why couldn’t he just look up YouTube, any of the multiple food channels on television, a cookbook, or just search the internet for a non-video recipe?
  • Will this incompetent chap who doesn’t even know how to learn how to make dal eventually follow in the noble footsteps of Samar Halarnkar and Max da Vinci and become a married man in the kitchen on a frequent basis, or is he just going to do this whenever his wife needs to self-examine?
  • What about lala couples who have domestic help to do all the chores anyway?
  • What about ladies who are widowed, have husbands who are living away from them, or aren’t married at all?

And, along with all of this, well, good for Philips India, but what made them decide on this good cause in particular?

I suspect that the whole point of the campaign is not to get more women examining themselves for breast cancer (though that would be a nice and positive side effect if it happened), but to get more husbands doing chores (which is valuable for its own sake and would also be excellent if it happened).

Now, telling husbands to do chores only for ten minutes a month may not seem like a lot as far as the wife is concerned. There is of course the possibility that the husbands will discover (to their own surprise) that they like doing things for their wives on a regular basis, or even that they enjoy doing the chores for their own sake. (Don’t knock that last possibility. Ironing is extremely relaxing.) And even if they don’t really enjoy it, maybe husbands will do it out of sheer competitiveness if they see other husbands doing it and bragging about it. Let us wait and watch.

Why, though, does Philips want husbands doing household chores? What’s in it for them?

My conspiracy theory is that they are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, a desire for less breast cancer, or a desire for more equitable marriages; but to sell the household appliances they make. What Philips is probably counting on is that husbands who have never done chores before will, once finally exposed to actual housework, realise what their wives have been going through and then rush to automate all these tasks as much as possible. Having realised the difficulties involved in getting ironed clothes, warm daal, or clean floors, they will at long last get better tools to achieve these, and immediately purchase mixies, vacuum cleaners, air fryers, or steam irons; to name but a few products in the Philips India range. Meanwhile, their wives, who had been wanting better equipment all this while but couldn’t convince them, will probably roll their eyes, grumble a bit about how long it took for the husbands to wake up to reality, and afterwards, hopefully, enjoy the benefits of increased automation, even if not the benefits of their husbands doing the work regularly.

If my conspiracy theory is correct, clearly somebody at Philips India is extremely subtle and patient in expanding their market size. Respect, I say. Respect.

What I Did On My Diwali Holiday

These are the lampshades in my parents’ drawing room:

2014-10-23 13.57.10

 

As you can see, they are shaped like pitchers. To put a light bulb in or take it out, you have to get a ladder, lean over the lampshade, and extract or insert the lighbulb from above.

Unfortunately, since the lampshades are open from above, this means that dust keeps falling into them. This is what the lightbulb looks like when you take it out:

2014-10-23 13.57.19

 

Look at the crust of dust on the base. Ew. And that’s just the bulb itself. The inside walls and bottom of the shade were even more gross. It doesn’t really come out clearly in photos just how disgusting they were, so I’ve not put any photos here. But it was awful. Some of the shades had a year’s worth of dead insects resting at the base – moths and honeybees that had flown too close to the light and had their wings singed. CFLs are better than incandescent bulbs, but still generate enough heat to knock out a small insect.

This called for a day of cleaning. These were my tools:

2014-10-26 13.31.35

Two toothbrushes, paper napkins (I really need to get a roll of kitchen towels for this house), and a bottle of Hawaiian white rum (made in Moradabad).

2014-10-26 12.41.29

I’m so posh that I only drink imported liquor, and use the Indian stuff only to clean things with. Jokes aside, this was a bottle that hadn’t been opened for about eight years, and when we did open it, we found it had gone bad. Since then I’ve been using it to clean bicycle gears, window panes, and on Diwali, lampshades. The dark part at the bit is sedimentary dirt.

After some trial and error, I found that the ideal way to clean the lampshades was to first brush inside with a dry toothbrush to dislodge the dirt, then dip the other toothbrush into the ‘rum’, and brush inside the lampshade again, and then to wipe the dirt off with a paper napkin. Since this was probably the first time the shades had been cleaned in a couple of years (if not more), this is what the napkin looked like at the end of cleaning two shades:

2014-10-23 14.07.13Eurgh.

I eventually finished cleaning lampshades for about half the house, which took at least ten tissues, and replacing blown out lightbulbs (where nobody had realised they were blown out) with new ones.

By the end of this, the combination of new lightbulbs and cleaner lampshades meant that my parents’ home was much better illuminated. Coincidentally, all this happened on Diwali, but I hadn’t planned it that way. It just happened to be the first holiday where I had free time at home since the time I bought a ladder to do carry out this exercise.

Anyway, the entire exercise taught me two things. The first is that some lampshade designs are far better than others. If the top is closed instead of the bottom, the lampshade stops being such a dust trap. For example, these lampshades in my parents’ living room turned out to be much easier to clean:

2014-10-26 14.13.56

Unfortunately, this design comes with problems of its own. Specifically, since you have to screw the bulb in from below instead of above, you can’t hold it from the base. So, if you’re doing this with an Osram CFL, you have to hold the bulb by the lamp instead of the base, and in this position you risk cracking the glass.

 

2014-10-26 14.06.12

This damn thing is flimsy as hell. Which is why I’ve now ordered thirty 7W Cool Daylight LED bulbs, which give even better illumination (particularly after the lampshades have been cleaned), for a third of the power consumption. The cost of the bulb is of course slightly alarming, but considering in Delhi I have to pay almost seven hundred and fifty rupees for a not even great cheeseburger, I can rationalise the purchase price to myself by not eating out for a few weeks. And, of course, for the next few days, until my Amazon delivery lands up, I can go around telling people ‘पूरे घर के बदल डालूँगा!’

The best design, of course, is the panel that goes into the false ceiling and then is protected from the elements. Which brings me to the second thing I learnt.

The second thing I learnt is that protecting your electrical fittings from the elements is particularly important in Delhi. To live in Delhi, is to wage a constant, losing war against dust.

Where does this dust come from? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing these are the most likely candidates:

  • The Thar desert, from where it’s blown all the way to Delhi because Delhi, Rajasthan, and Haryana have no forests to act as breaks. This is what I remember being taught in school. Perhaps it’s accelerated recently.
  • Unburnt particulate matter from all the cargo-three wheelers that I see making cargo deliveries in Delhi. Seriously, I see these only in Delhi. In TN, everyone uses the Tata Ace, which I think is far more reliable, even if not necessarily cleaner. I have no idea why the switch to Aces hasn’t happened in Delhi.
  • Or maybe it’s just all the clean car and truck engines, that despite emitting very little particulate individually, just overwhelm Delhi when all taken together,
  • Construction sites where sand hasn’t been properly secured. You see this all over Delhi. People by sand by the truckload, dump it on the road by the side of the construction, and then let wind blow it away. It’s horrible in Gurgaon, but Delhi is pretty bad too. Construction has skyrocketed in the past few years, thanks to Metro building, flyover building, and house reconstruction all over Delhi after building byelaws were changed to allow you to have four floors and parking instead of three floors. Anecdotally, the last type of construction is the most indisciplined when it it comes to just dumping stuff on public roads and not storing sand safely.

The battle you face in Delhi then, is only proximately against dust. It’s ultimately against widespread small-scale assholery committed by people not giving a shit about keeping their construction sites clean, picking up after themselves, or tuning their engines, because what the hell, it’s more of a problem for other people than themselves.

I fear that this (along with Delhi’s traffic, people bursting crackers, and people littering) are all prisoners’ dilemma problems, except with ten million prisoners instead of two. Which means that the best course of action is not to wait for a solution, but just get the hell out of Delhi (again).

Unfortunately, that may not be feasible in the short term. But then in the short term, I can keep on changing my home’s bulbs, fixtures, and lampshades. And maybe, just maybe, the extra cleanliness and reduced maintenance will give me the money and peace of mind to come up with a miracle solution to the problem of dust.

 

Calibrating Expectations

June has been the last month where I get to live in my own place (well, until I make new arrangements in either Delhi or Chennai. It’s complicated.) As a result, I have been making the most of it by inviting as many people over as possible and socialising like there’s no tomorrow (this will actually be true sometime between Sunday and Tuesday).

This means that over the past couple of weeks, many, many ladies have complimented me on how I have such a nice flat for a boy, and how it’s significantly superior to the usual bachelor pad. Success!

This success, I feel, has two contributing factors. The first is my stellar bai, Viji-amma; and the second is how my furniture has calibrated visitors’ expectations.

Right now I have beds with mattresses (and bed linen!), closets (these came with the flat and I didn’t buy them), a basic dining table with basic chairs (and a tablecloth!), and a speaker system propped up on a packing box. This means that my flat is significantly nicer than a bachelor pad where everything is kept on the floor. At the same time, there isn’t enough furniture that people start thinking of it as a family house that is either ill maintained or lacking in soul. That’s quite a sweet spot.

Had I remained in Chennai and continued to furnish the flat one major purchase at a time, this would have meant that at some point I would surely have entered a sour spot where it would be furnished just enough to raise visitors’ expectations to “family home” instead of “bachelor pad” and they would have gone away clucking in disapproval and wishing they had booked a hotel or met up in a restaurant instead. Oh Amma! After that, I would have to struggle for a long, long period; spending more and more time on cleaning and more and more money on furniture, linen, and decor before these new expectations could be exceeded. But then life is stern and life is earnest.

The important question, of course, is – at what point do expectations jump from “bachelor pad” to “family home”? One guest suggested that it is when the first sofa comes in. This seems very likely, but surely there are other things that could cause the expectation jump.

I think a more general solution is provided by the Cushion Rant from Coupling. My (arbit of course) hypothesis is that the minute you have anything that can be covered with cushions – be it a king sized bed, a sofa, or an ottoman; the expectations change.

If this is true, then the solution is to buy furniture in a sequence where the things that can be covered with cushions come last. So you first get single or queen sized beds so you can sleep, then a dining table so you can eat, and then a study/ work desk. Finally you get the sofa, and cushions along with it. I fear, however, that the cushions are necessary but not sufficient. Much more research needs to be conducted in this.

Flathunt

My career path this year consists of not being at the factory (located fifteen kilometres outside Kanchipuram) every day, but gradually shifting into a sales role, so that I’m either at the office in Chennai or travelling and meeting customers. Therefore, I am looking for a place to live that is not too far away from either the Bangalore highway or Chennai proper. This sort of narrows my choices down to Porur (or possibly Maduravoyal, though I haven’t tried that yet).

Apartment-hunting in Porur has not been fun. Everything advertised seems to be an old house with a floor on rent, not an actual flat. Well, not really. I did find two listings for flats in Shantiniketan West Woods. When I called, they had already been sold out. Oh sigh. All other apartment buildings seem to be still under construction. Oh sigh.

Unfortunately, the buildings that do exist and are available don’t seem to want me. I’m not Brahmin, not vegetarian, and a bachelor.

Now vegetarianism within the premises is easily done (I can always sneak off outside to thulp meat) and as an Arya Samaji I am technically more Brahminical than most Brahmins – so faking Brahminism is not too difficult – though it will involve the poonal, which I am assured is both uncomfortable and unsexy. That only leaves occupying the flat with a family, which presents more complications. My father will be there a week in a month, but I get the feeling that landlords are looking for something more permanent. There is grave danger here that I will have to resort to sitcom/ romcom style madcap hijinks and hire actors to play my wife and kids.

Actually, looking at how widespread landlord antipathy is towards singletons, I’m surprised that this isn’t already an underground business, with HR managers in Bombay and Madras whispering to new joinees about very convincing actors at very reasonable rates. Oh wait, that would require HR to do something useful. Silly me. But maybe the cool mentoring manager that every organisation has.

What makes the pro-family-anti-singleton bias particularly annoying is that it has two levels of irrationality. First is the prejudice against behaviour associated with single people – wild partying, getting members of the opposite sex over for sexytimes (what happens when landlords learn about gay people?), and all night poker parties. And the second is the assumption that all single people are up to these nefarious activities Against Our Culture, while the minute you get married you stop.

I mean, I can’t sympathise with a bias against premarital sex or drinking, but I can understand that people have one and want to enforce it. But in that case, why not specify no drinking or no sex when you rent out the flat, instead of a blanket ban on single tenants. There is some serious ‘All men are mortal. Socrates was mortal. All men are Socrates.’ thinking going on when you ban single people.

I have a dream. Actually I have two dreams.

The first dream is that one day I will be rich enough to buy a flat that has previously refused to rent out to me because of my bachelorhood,and then rent it out to the most horrifying possible tenant. Say, a drinking, smoking, North-East-Indian, hard-rocking tattooed Muslim with a succession of girlfriends, all of whom visit him. That’s right, blaggards, you could have had a sober young Punjabi tenant who got up to nothing worse than really bad puns when you had the chance, but you blew it. Pay the price now!

The other dream is a little more subtle, and will actually screw around with their prejudices instead of reinforcing them. Once again, it’s to buy a flat in an apartment complex otherwise full of uptight people *cough Iyengars cough*, get on the owners association, and pass a resolution to only let out flats to families. And then, for tenants, find a married couple that is Brahmin and vegetarian, but also one where the couple are swingers and throw loud and ostentatious orgies every weekend. This should hopefully cause permanent brain meltdown among the neighbours. It will be awesome.

I am still about seven megarupees away from bring rich enough to do this just for the lulz, but as soon as I am, I will let the internet know about it. Once that happens, if you are looking for a flat and fit either of these profiles, please let me know.

Until then, I am throwing myself on the mercy of Chennai brokers. Wish me luck.

 

Neo-Edwardian Calling Cards

The Art of Manliness blog recently (well, actually, a couple of years ago) had a post on how the Victorian custom of calling cards had died out, and lamented the fact:

During the heyday of calling cards, using a business card for a social purpose was considered bad manners. Today, while business cards are great for making business contacts, they still aren’t really suited for social situations. They probably have your work number and work email, and not much else on them. Think of all the times you meet someone you’d like to see again. Handing them a business card is too stiff and formal.

While this is true, a Victorian-style calling card will not fit all the situations we are confronted with in our modern world. This is a common failing of the Victorian aesthetic, which emphasised form over functionality. To achieve form and functionality, we must turn to Edwardianism. And since this is the twenty-first century – Saivite neo-Edwardianism.

What does this involve? Among other things – taking advantage of technology. To abandon Victorian straight-lacedness and adopt the more genial and creative values of the Edwardian era. To respond to problems with appropriate solutions and not with an arbitrary code of etiquette. Just as King Edward himself changed fashions to suit his waistline rather than change his waistline to suit his fashions, so too we must change calling cards to reflect the situations in which we will use them. And in this era of desktop publishing and printing on demand, that means a visiting card or calling card for every situation.

I can think of cards for at least six different situations. These are:

  1. The visiting card your employer gives you, if you are working as a salaried professional (or even a professional working on commission, come to that). You have no control over this. The email on it is your work email. The phone number on it is your company phone. And unless it’s your own company and you decide the logo and card design and suchlike, there is not much you can do to customise this. All one can do with this sort of card is to accept it and move along. Back when I was a salaried yuppie, I tried for three months to get cards printed in which my designation was ‘Corporate Ho’ but my boss refused to approve anything except ‘Associate Purchase Manager’. Then I moved to Bombay, where I was in the Corporate Head Office on a project. It finally looked like I could get away with a business card that said ‘Corporate H.O. – Special Projects’. Alas, because it was a special project I was working on secondment in a business unit that was not actually my cost centre, and nobody could decide who would pay for my new business cards. Before things could be sorted out I had quit. Such is life.
  2. The visiting card you make for yourself if you do freelance work and meet people to pitch to them. So if you’re a consultant or writer or photographer looking for clients, you have a website that shows your portfolio or lists your past work and satisfied clients, and your visiting card includes that, your dedicated email for freelance work, your LinkedIn profile, and a dedicated mobile number for this. A dedicated mobile number may seem a little extreme, but it’s three thousand rupees extra at most. Or you could put a dual SIM phone. What is there?
    The card then reads:

    Aadisht Khanna
    Quizmaster
    www.aadisht.net/quizzes

    or

    Aadisht Khanna
    Writer at Large
    www.aadisht.net/portfolio
    99808 26537

    I met Shefaly last year. She’s a freelance consultant, and she got her business cards printed by Moo. They were plain back with only her website address in white text. Very cool.

  3. A visiting card to give to shops and restaurants and sales agents and suchlike. It’s useful to get marketing offers and freebies, but not at the risk of subjecting yourself to spam. The solution is simple – create a dedicated email address for all your consumer transactions, and use that whenever you have to fill in a feedback form or purchase order form. If you want to be really ninja about this, you could get a dedicated mobile number for this as well, and use a cheap-ass Maxx Mobile that you’d switch off when you didn’t want to be disturbed with assorted personal loan offers. And then you can put the dedicated shopping email and mobile number on a visiting card, and drop it in the bowl whenever a shop or restaurant invited you to do so to get special offers. If you wanted to kick it up a notch, the card could include your monthly free cash flow, so the shop would know when not to bother sending you offers on things you couldn’t possibly afford.
  4. If you’re single, a visiting card to give to interesting members of the suitable sex. This card would have your name, personal phone number and email, and perhaps a link to your facebook page. To make it more effective, it could include a short testimonial from your best friend, or a description of your attractive qualities. Like “Consumer Banker of Repute”. Or “I drive a VW Polo”. Or “Skilled kisser. References available.” You get the idea.
  5. A card which you attach to presents or cash envelopes. This sort of card is actually wildly popular in Delhi. Actually, we take it for granted so much that I was astonished when Namy Roy and Muggesh asked if it was a Dalhi thing. This is a Dalhi innovation that works, and which the rest of the country should adopt. This card usually contains your family name (or the names of everyone in the family), the house address, and nothing else.
  6. And of course, a personal visiting card; with your personal phone number, personal email id, links to your blog or twitter id or facebook page, and so on. Your address, if you’re comfortable giving that away. If not, you could leave enough white space to write it down for the people you did want to give it to.

Visiting cards are only the beginning. To really unleash the neo-Edwardian aesthetic, we would abandon Facebook walls for personal email and even handwritten notes when possible. Handwritten notes in turn would call for personalised stationery, which too should be customised to purpose as much as the visiting cards described above. A world in which we send letters on high-GSM cream-coloured paper, with custom embossing depending on who you were writing to and why, is a much better world than the one we have today. We should do our utmost to create this world.

Not Wasting Food

Love Food Hate Waste has five tips on how to save money by not wasting food (via). Although the list has been designed with a UK audience in mind, some of the tips hold equally well for us junta sitting in India. For example:

Tinned beans, frozen vegetables, meat and fish and dried fruit, nuts, pasta & noodles, rice & grains, are all essentials with a long shelf life – meaning you will always have the ingredients standing by to pull together a delicious meal or to jazz up your leftovers. The trick is to replace items once you have used them up. It helps to keep a note stuck on the inside of the cupboard door – scribble down items as soon as you have finished them and check it when you write your shopping list.

Planning your meals is one of the most effective ways you can cut wastage and food bills. Start by checking your fridge, freezer and store cupboard so you don’t shop for things you already have.

(Love Food Hate Waste)

When I was in Bangalore, not planning my meals in the morning could lead to disaster. I would forget I had fruit or salad lying in the fridge, and then eat dinner out near office assuming there was nothing at home to prepare. By the next day, the salad would have spoilt, and I would have wasted the salad as well as the cost of the dinner out. Sticking a list of what I did have on the fridge door every weekend would have helped in the planning meals if I’d checked it every day and planned my dinner and breakfast according to it.

On a related note, it’s time to bring up another rant about refrigerators (people who read my mailing list know I do this often). Picking a refrigerator is fraught with peril. You’re always trading off convenience with expense and a tendency to waste.

I positively hate manual defrost refrigerators. If the light goes for extended periods (as it does so often in India) you wind up with a huge puddle on the kitchen floor. If you forget to defrost, whatever is in the freezer gets iced over and you have to go at it with a pickaxe. And I’m too much a twenty-first century types to remember to defrost the thing myself. That’s the fridge’s job, dammit!

Now unfortunately a frost-free fridge comes in large sizes and so uses more electricity than the manual defrost ones (in addition to being more expensive to begin with anyhow). The large size also means you have a tendency to throw stuff in there and then forget it’s there – as I did with my salads.

Fortunately, there are mitigants. You can cut down on the wasted electricity by filling the freezer with water bottles so all that energy goes to some use. And sticking a list of what’s in there on the fridge door could help you avoid forgetting it.

Extreme geekiness alert: In fact, if you wanted to truly power-use your fridge lists, you could create an individual Post-it for every item, and flip the Post-its around so that what you were planning to use in the evening would be right on top. The only way to be even geekier is to have a laptop in the kitchen and update your fridge MIS on an Excel sheet (or Google spreadsheets for that matter) as you remove stuff from the fridge and eat/ cook it. Sadly, my kitchen in Bangalore was too small to allow this. But I recommend it highly – a laptop in the kitchen also means you can download recipes.

The stuff I’ve written above does assume that:

  1. You do your food-buying-and-preparing yourself, instead of leaving it to your bai. Given how much people complain about the quality of their domestic help, they damn well ought to do it themselves instead of leaving it to their bai.
  2. You’re a relative newbie when it comes to managing your kitchen, and you haven’t internalised obvious stuff like remembering what you have already.
  3. You actually have a kitchen (so many people in Bombay just take dabbas and heat them) and give a shit about running it properly.

What with current trends of urbanisation, corporatisation, sararimanisation, growing numbers of young migrant professionals, growing salary demands of bais, yada yada, I think the number of people fulfilling the above conditions will grow. This is my yumble contribution to them. Maybe, I should set up a post/ page for useful kitchen tips.

Lebensraum

My flatmate has moved out and I now have the entire flat to myself. This means that I now have an empty bedroom to play with. What exactly to do with this is an interesting problem. A number of alternatives have emerged:

  1. My father has suggested supplementing my salary by going into the flesh love hotel trade, and renting the spare room out by the hour to young and amorous couples. This would incur investment on a new bed, and some manner of decoration, but would eventually pay for itself.
    The question is how long the payback period would actually be. When I was in Shanghai in spring 2006, my utter lack of Mandarin meant I ended up checking in at the Motel 186 on Zhoujiazui Road instead of the one on Dalian Road. The Zhoujiazui Road Motel 186 was very much in the love hotel category. The biggest customer segment was university students who would take a room for an afternoon.
    The problem is that university students pinch their pennies. So two or three couples would take a single room. If Bangalore customers are as bottom-of-pyramid as Shanghai customers, the internal rate of return would be far too low. Better to put the money into a fixed deposit instead of buying the bed.
  2. More practically, I could just shift furniture so that one room becomes a bedroom and the other becomes a study. This sounds good, but it would make carrying the laptop to bed more difficult. Right now all I have to do is remove the USB cables for the printer, the hard disk, and the mouse, and pull it two feet to the bed. So this must be considered carefully.
  3. I could convert it into a storeroom, except that I don’t have anything to store.
  4. Religion. Old time religion. Construct an altar in the empty room in which I can sacrifice small furry animals and infants. I would have to give my maid a salary hike to deal with the extra mess, though.
  5. Or, I could go with the nuclear option. If I sell all my mutual funds, and take on an insane level of debt through personal loans, I could generate enough cash to fill the room with playpen balls.

Powerless

My idiot flatmate hasn’t paid the electricity bill and the power’s been cut off.

The good news is that this happened during winter in Bangalore, and so this doesn’t lead to much physical discomfort. The bad news is that thanks to another decision by the idiot flatmate (viz., buying a manual defrost refrigerator instead of a frost free one), the kitchen will be flooded by the time I return today. I suspect all the salad inside the fridge will also spoil.

Also, this will lead to an absence of blogposts which required either the use of a scanner, or embedding YouTube videos (which I can’t do at work), or quoting stuff I saw on facebook (again, blocked at work).