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Monday, June 12, 2006

From Chulha to Microwave Oven

A week ago, I asked my mother something. To understand the question, I need to give a little bit of background. My father is a bureaucrat, and he used to get transferred into remote towns and villages as a part of his job. With him we, the family members, also had to move on every two or three years. And those were difficult days.

There were places where electricity failed to spark even once in a whole long month. Mind it, I’m talking about summers. Then we had small quarters provided by government, which looked more like ruins from Harappa. To cook, we had coal-fuelled chulhas taking half an hour to get ready to boil one cup of water. To commute, there was a shattered, aging Rajdoot motorcycle who used to scream like Ravana from the old Ramayana serial, whenever my father used to kick-start it. For entertainment, we had an old television which always failed to show our favourite serials on Sundays. I’m not blaming him; after all he also needed something like current to get into action. Just imagine, only one TV channel (no need to tell it was Doordarshan), and we couldn’t watch even that.

Things have changed a bit now. We have now a decently-built house in a moderately posh colony at Patna. Power is regular, sometimes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our kitchen boasts of a modern Microwave Oven which, they say, uses the same technology in cooking food the nuclear bombs had used in Pokharan. That old Rajdoot retired long ago, and has been placed by a car which has something called air-conditioner too. Now we have a colour TV, equipped with remote control, 100 channels and God-knows-what 23 ultramodern technologies. And yeah, I’m not talking about DVD player, video games and the other entertainment-mongers at my home.

So, in a nutshell, we are richer than we were years ago, and we are tolerably rich by the Indian standards. Now I come to the main point. I asked my mother if she was happier now than she was years ago.

Her answer was- No. Just imagine, despite such a splurge in fortunes the happiness quotient remained the same. Then I asked her if she would like to go back to the older conditions. After all, the changes hadn’t made her any happier. Again her answer was- No. Losing the newly-gained things was going to make her unhappy, but on the contrary, they were not making her happier too.

When I see around, I find more or less the same case with others also. New things give us a high for some time, then they become like chewing-gum, tasteless no matter how much we chew it. But we also don’t want to spit it out. Blame it on the mechanical habit we developed in the last half an hour.

These new things can be anything- house, job, girl/boyfriend, car etc. Everything claims to make us permanently happy, but falls short. Really short. It just makes us used to it.

In Basu Bhattacharya-directed movie 'Aastha', Om Puri says, “Kaarkhaanon me humaari jaruraton ka saman nahi, humaari jaruratein banti hain.” (Factories manufacture our necessities rather than the objects of our necessity.) And we have no other way but to succumb to the necessities manufactured by the growth-maniac industries and advertised by the sale-obsessed agencies. Despite having no happiness-growth at all.

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