These are the lampshades in my parents’ drawing room:
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:
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:
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).
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:
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:
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.
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.