Dealing with lockdown with lessons from the seventies and eighties

Topics Coronavirus | Lockdown

Never have I felt more grateful that my childhood and most of my teenage years were spent in a pre-liberalisation India. That was a time when we had just about enough to get by comfortably. Possessions were largely limited to necessities and, though we aspired for luxuries, they seldom came our way.

Our cupboards didn’t overflow with clothes, and we wore all that we owned rather than let them moulder at the bottom of the shelf. Even in our teenage years, we could barely hope to afford a branded bag. 

Mothers, too, had at most two handbags — one for everyday use and the other for parties that were aplenty in the army. Party shoes for the children counted as luxury. And if we were lucky enough to possess a pair, we took very good care of them. The kitchen was also basic and functional, with steel crockery and cutlery, and later melamine, for daily use and bone china for when guests came over.

Gol Maal, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Chupke Chupke, Rang Biranji, all of which were made in the seventies and eighties, kept our sense of humour intact and our approach to life simple. (If I were to think of a time when this state of being ever bothered me, that would be only when cousins from abroad came visiting in their well-fitted jeans and smart sweatshirts. And here I was, in ridiculous baggy trousers and hand-knitted baggy sweaters.)

The seventies and eighties left us with a few important lessons, some of which are coming in handy in this time when the difference between essentials and non-essentials has come to the fore. I will list three of them.

Lesson No 1: Think of their possible uses before you throw things away.

Back in those days, nothing was ever dumped or discarded without careful consideration. We were reusing and recycling way before it became trendy — and necessary, thanks to wanton consumerism and compulsive consumption.

That round tin of boiled candy brought by those cousins from abroad could serve as a pen stand. That pretty cardboard box that my father’s tie came in could be used for storing earrings. That rectangular tin of cookies became a sewing kit. I don’t even recall tearing gifts open. The wrapping paper would be neatly removed and then rolled up (better than folding it and creasing it) to be reused to pack another gift.

Some of these habits have stuck. So much so that one shelf in our kitchen today is full of empty containers of different shapes and sizes. Deep, shallow, square, round, ice-cream boxes, sauce/chutney containers that came with pizza or biryani, flat biscuit boxes… You name it, we have it. And all of them with lids. In lockdown weeks, how handy these have been to store stuff in the freezer: grated onion, ginger, garlic, pureed tomato, peas, beans… So much time, effort, energy saved.

Lesson No 2: Be hands-on with plumbing and electrical problems.

We didn’t live in a time when plumbers and electricians were a phone call away, or better still could be summoned through fancy new home services apps. We saw our parents get on a ladder or a stool to fix those bulbs, tube lights and starters or television antennae, or repair the oven, replace a short-circuited fuse or mend a leaking faucet. And we assisted them, and made mistakes, and got scolded and learnt.

Lesson No 3: Deal with the weather.

That wasn’t a time of cars and air conditioners. Families owned two-wheelers and made do with fans and coolers. Come summer, winter or rain, our parents would get on their scooters or mopeds to go to work. When it poured, my mother — who is a doctor — would pull her sari up a bit, tuck it in, wear a raincoat over it and head off to her clinic on her Luna.

Some summer nights, when visiting grandparents, could be spent under the open sky, safe inside mosquito nets. Those would be pleasant, but sleeping outside wasn’t possible in city homes. So we improvised: bathed again just before going to bed and sprinkled water on the overheated bedroom floor (remember, evaporation causes cooling?).

Summer is here and we haven’t got our air conditioners serviced. I don’t know when, and if at all, we will be able to get that done. If not, we will improvise, the way we did as children.
The seventies and eighties taught us well.

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