15 May 2010

Repair and reuse

My mixer-grinder stopped working. I was making hummus when the motor just gave up and the blade stopped rotating. The chick peas were only a half-ground mess. Time to get a new one, I thought… anyway one of the blades had broken into two and the handle of one of the jugs was about to fall off. But I didn’t rush out to buy a new one until not having a mixer-grinder started to become a real inconvenience.

A word here about mixer-grinders: no Indian household is complete without one. Each kitchen must have one – along with the compulsory pressure cooker and tawa (a flat pan used to make chappatis). A mixer-grinder is an integral part of every Indian kitchen, used to grind spices into powders, make idly and dosa batter and chop up coconut. You simply cannot live without one. Though I had managed to live without one before moving to India, my beloved mixie had become one of my most essential kitchen tools. Instead of grinding spices and mixing dosa batter though, I used mine to grind flax seeds and make hummus, amongst other things. The blender option is good for fruit smoothies. So when it stopped working I was at a loss.

I was on the way to the shop to look for a new mixer-grinder when I met my landlady. “Where are you going?” is one of her favourite questions. When I told her what had happened she was horrified: “How will you cook!?” she asked, aghast. I told her that since I’d had the mixer-grinder for three years, maybe it was time for a new one. She looked even more horrified. “Only three years? I’ve had my mixie for over 30 years and it’s still working! No, no, don’t buy a new one!” she begged me. She had a solution for me. “You can take it to the repairman!”

I had passed the little repair shops on the main road dozens of times where I’d see men tinkering around with screwdrivers and wires, but I hadn’t even thought of this option. Why? Because where I come from these little shops do not exist. If something breaks, you try to fix it. If you’re unsuccessful then you buy a new one. Why? Because appliances are usually cheaper to replace than to fix!

Not in India. India is the country of recycle, reuse and repair! So off I went to the repair shop. My mixer-grinder was not the only casualty. The repairman happened to be working on another mixie which seemed to be in far worse condition: the body had been opened up and a mess of wires was spilling all over the operation table. Mine was child’s play in comparison. The plastic disc which had worn out and stopped rotating was swiftly exchanged for another one. The broken blade was removed and replaced with an identical shiny brand-new one. Total repair time: 5 minutes. Cost: 70 rupees. My mixie was as good as new.

My landlady was happy my mixer-grinder had come back to life. “How much did you pay?” (another favourite question). “You see! I saved you 2000 rupees!” she told me proudly.


Desisoccermom said...

You couldn't have said it better. It is cheaper to repair than to buy a new appliance in India. It is totally opposite over here. I have grown up watching cookers, mixers, blenders, stereos, TVs and even cooking ranges getting fixed for little money.

As to your landlady's personal questions: well that is so Indian. It is not always a good thing but I am sure you are glad this time she asked you where you were going and saved you some bucks? :)

xaspireonfirex said...

Just fantastic! I love this about India. I'm so sorry - and so ashamed - that it seems that during the course of the lives of the present generation, these kind of skills have disappeared in the West. I despair at the prospect of having to throw out some device, full of plastic, wires and metal, because of some fault which, if you could just work it out, would turn out to be really small.

What a pity - and what a bad lesson for us - that things have become cheaper to replace entirely rather than fix. A metaphor which could apply to so many of our society's problems ...

I hope Indians never stop demanding the talents of their local repairmen - they really are priceless!

Shubha said...

Just last week,my mom's cooking range stopped working.There was hardly any flame in 2 and the other two were dead,and we could smell LPG every time she turned on the knob.
I told her to throw it and get a new one.But she had bought it from Saudi 35 years back and felt nothing was wrong with it and could serve her more!
So,she gave a call to this guy who came home and
in two hours,serviced the obsolete,unbranded cooking range and made it look as good as new.The flame burns beautifully on all 4,and the guy charged peanuts for it!

Scrumps said...

This made me smile! It's so true! :)

Anonymous said...

Shubha, your mom is very lucky that the house didn't blow sky-high. Assuming that you guys are using propane (LPG) as the fuel for the stove, any leaked gas could linger in the house for days, and since propane is heavier than air, it could easily find a corner to hide in and if there is a spark nearby, look out!

If you ever smell gas in your house, turn off anything that could create a spark or flame, open a window for ventilation and get out. Only have a QUALIFIED person do the repair work.

Any malfunctioning gas-fired appliance should really be treated like a bomb.

Anonymous said...

Ha! When my iPod "ear buds" stopped working, I was just going to toss it out, but my Malayali neighbors looked at me in astonishment and insisted that I take them to be repaired. The repairman actually got the thing open, soldered something and sealed it all back up for 50 rupees! I couldn't believe it. They worked great.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

This is such a nice thing about India; in Nepal I had my $35 Timex repaired, completely dissembled and reassembled for 30NRs (about fifty cents). I was shocked the first time a Nepali repairman said to me, about my trusty late-90s Walkman cassette player, that I should just chuck it and buy another. Sign of the times?