What I Did On My Diwali Holiday

These are the lampshades in my parents’ drawing room:

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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:

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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:

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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).

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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:

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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.


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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.


Some Public Transport Links

First up, the Times of India has a report on the Lajpat Nagar station of the Delhi Metro facing problems. While the station itself is being built, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is refusing to give the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation land for entry and exit points. If this situation is not resolved, then come June 2010, the Metro trains will stop at Lajpat Nagar, but passengers will have no way to actually get into or out of the station.

In 2008 in Preview, I had written about the Bangalore airport being completed without a road to the actual city, and how passengers to Bangalore would have to take onward flights to Mangalore and then a Volvo to Bangalore from there. Now it looks like Metro passengers to Lajpat Nagar will have to go to Moolchand and take an auto from there.

Actually, metro stations that get built but where the trains that don’t stop exist/ existed in real life. Recently, there was Buangkok on the North-East line of the Singapore MRTS. The station was built, but not used for two years. Then, a chap had the bright idea of putting up cutouts of white elephants all over it. For his pains, he got hauled up by the police, shaken down and eventually let off with a stern warning. Singapore, eh?

The story doesn’t end there. The whole controversy meant that the station was finally opened to the public, and this was accompanied by a huge opening ceremony and party. Enterprising schoolgirls who were involved in social work decided to raise funds over there by selling ‘Save the White Elephant’ tshirts. They too were given a warning by the police:

On Friday, Jan 13, while preparations went into overdrive for the carnival to celebrate the opening of the $80-million station on Sunday, drama knocked on its doors yet again. This time, it was over some “Save the White Elephants” T-shirts that former Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were planning to sell at the carnival.

That day, the students and Punggol South organisers received a reminder from the police that they needed a fund-raising permit before they could sell the T-shirts to the public, in line with existing regulations. The 27 students were also told that they might break the law if the T-shirts were worn “en masse”.

Lawbreaking by t-shirt. Awesome.

Now, moving on to less bizarre matters, Governing magazine has a piece on proactive infrastructure planning (via). It makes the valid point that most transportation infrastructure planning is reactive, and consists of increasing capacity wherever there’s congestion. However, if you create capacity where none exists, the benefits to the places on that new route can lead to an economic boom there and change transportation patterns so that the old route gets decongested – everyone is going to the new places instead. The article uses the high-speed train line between Madrid and Sevilla as an example.

It’s an intuitively sensible concept, but the example given also made my inner skeptic sniff and ask the following questions:

  1. The Spanish economy has been having a general construction fueled boom for many years, right? So was the boom in Sevilla and Andalucia notably more than the rest of the country?
  2. What’s the boom in the region and city been? High-speed rail usually serves only commuters – and so the service industry. A manufacturing boom needs decongestion and faster speeds on cargo lines as well – did those get built or decongested too?

Also, the article doesn’t really give any pointers about which underserved route you should create your highway or rail line on. I mean, why Sevilla instead of say Granada or Valencia or Bilbao?

In fact (and this is where I come into disagreement with Atanu Dey), this is where small airports and low cost airlines score over high-speed rail – you don’t have to take expensive bets building an entire high-speed line only to find it doesn’t get utilised – just build a small airstrip and terminal, and let low cost carriers serve them. This was pretty much Captain Gopinath’s dream with Air Deccan, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for him personally. But he did use to make the point that the airstrips are already there – they just need to be served. And so the risk is entirely on the private parties who operate the routes – not on the government or taxpayers who have to build the rail lines.

Actually, making sure your new route is utilised isn’t as hit or miss as the last paragraph makes it sound. It’s been done successfully by the new ports in Gujewland – Pipavav, Mundra Adani, and Palanpur through private-public partnerships.

What has happened here is that the port operator has persuaded heavy industries to build new plants next to their ports and take advantage of dedicated terminals for iron ore or gas or finished products (don’t recall the details, sorry, and don’t have the paper this was described in on me right now). Then, the port operator, the industrial user of the port, and the Indian Railways set up a joint venture which is dedicated to linking the port to the existing railway network.

So merely building a route is not enough. You also need to ensure somehow that there are enough users for it. That is tangentially alluded to in the article when it talks about the Meteor line and the National Library in Paris, but never addressed explicitly. I know, the article probably had a word limit constraint, it only wanted to introduce the what instead of writing a thesis about the how, but I wish someone would address the how. Oh well.