The ministry of broken things

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#1 Dec 30th, 2017, 14:56
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Iftikhar Khan of New Life Watch Company. Photographs by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

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Ankita Kshirsagar, perched on the parapet of Thane’s busy Gaondevi maidan on a Sunday afternoon, is an impatient 21-year-old who can be easily mistaken for a customer in her jeans and red top. She is surrounded by the implements of the kalhaiwalla: metal forceps, a basin of water, a pump to air-blast the coal, a box for the naushadar, or aluminium chloride powder, and allied metal tools with which to scrape and re-tin the pots. There are no customers at the moment, so she is busy with her phone.

This spot in the market has been occupied, for over half a century, by her family—her grandfather, Kondebhau Mukti Kshirsagar, her uncle, and her father, Ramesh Kshirsagar. She steps in when he is on breaks. One of the only kalhaiwallas in this area to have survived the changing economy, the family’s primary kalhai business now comes from restaurants as distant as Vasai, Panvel, Navi Mumbai and surrounding Thane, which send large kitchen vessels across to be re-tinned. Business from homes dipped a long time ago, once households moved from copper, aluminium and tin to stainless steel. Now, says Ankita, copper is making a comeback of sorts with health advocates. People are retrieving grandma’s utensils from the family loft and want to have them restored.

Much like the West, some sections of India have become a use-and-throw society. Not so long ago, you could see repairwallas going from street to street, offering to fix broken items, but their distinctive cry disappearing from our streets seems to map urban progress. Even in the tier II towns of cotton-growing Marathwada, where foam and spring are replacing foldable cotton-stuffed gaddas in local mattress stores, the ruiwalla finds himself perilously replaceable. Some are managing to hold out. Every Gujarati ben in the south Mumbai triangle (Walkeshwar, Bhuleshwar and Babulnath) still sends her precious wedding silks, Banarasis and Patolas to the renowned rafoogar Vali Mohamed of Ahmedabad for a darn and mend. In Hyderabad’s Old City sits Mahboob Radios, where vintage Grundigs, Murphys and HMVs stack up like a living museum of sound. In Pune, Kale Pens at Budhvar Peth makes a small contribution to keeping fountain pens alive. Madan Jee & Co. in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk is where you would take your dad’s DSLR and aunt’s Polaroid for a retune.

But the skills needed for all this are becoming increasingly rare.

In 2015, violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Lalgudi Trust organized a repair workshop in Chennai with master craftsman James Wimmer—at present, Indian violins have to be sent overseas for repair as cost-effective synthetic glues replace animal-derived adhesives (traditionally called saresh). This loss of repair culture has two kinds of impact: the irreplaceable loss of skill, and the loss of a preservation ethic. The economic cost to society is great, as cheaper products are crafted with planned obsolescence to boost sales, resulting in the continuing pile-up of trash and waste.

Once, Sumeet mixers, Duckback schoolbags, Prestige pressure cookers and Godrej bureaus used to be purchased sparingly—at the time of the new school year, Diwali, a wedding—and would last a lifetime. Today, annual upgrades in design and style, colour and form make for an insatiable market. Companies like Duckback failed because their products were too sturdy, failing to stimulate the repeat business that drives modern commerce.

The larger question remains: What do we lose when we cease to repair the things we own, especially when repair costs money, time and effort? Is repairing an ethic that merely feeds our nostalgia, or does it offer a more tangible connect to the past?
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#2 Dec 30th, 2017, 17:35
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fixing anything is a lost art
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#3 Dec 30th, 2017, 17:37
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Frankly, I haven't experienced anything from the past that gave better service than what's available nowadays. Pots and pans, comforters, cars, shoes, clocks, watches... Everything's better nowadays.
#4 Dec 30th, 2017, 18:20
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Yes, modern items function better than the old ones in most cases, but that is not the point... When our modern items fail, we throw them out rather than repair them. Many modern items are designed to be unrepairable, to stimulate new purchases.
Between throwing stuff out instead of repairing, and buying new items because the old still working ones are "unfashionable", we are using up the worlds finite resources.

(Typed on my 10 year old computer... )


Ed.
#5 Dec 30th, 2017, 18:57
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A few things are actually worse off due to advancements in technology. I find CRTs to be easier on the eyes and am holding onto a ten year old set. I bought a piece just before they got phased out from the market completely.
#6 Dec 30th, 2017, 19:14
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Originally Posted by Matka View Post Frankly, I haven't experienced anything from the past that gave better service than what's available nowadays. Pots and pans, comforters, cars, shoes, clocks, watches... Everything's better nowadays.
"Everything's better nowadays" is a highly generalized statement and many times, not true.

My refrigerator is from 1989 and has never been fixed for anything while my friends' modern fancy fridges don't last 10 years. Last year I finally got rid of a washing machine I had since 1984 only because the bottom was rusted out. A friend who repairs them says modern ones of the same brand are lucky to last 5 years.

I have pots, pans and glass bakeware I've used for a 30+ years. Nothing wrong with them.

I wear a vintage watch from the 1960s that keeps time better than a modern watch with a battery and all I have to do is wind it up.

As for cars, a friend would rather drive his 1954 Thunderbird around than his three year old BMW. His BMW has been worked on twice already this year because there's too much techie shit on it that needs help.

Maybe my stuff lasted a long time because they were built in America when shit was still made in America.
#7 Dec 30th, 2017, 19:48
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Originally Posted by Sama View Post Maybe my stuff lasted a long time because they were built in America when shit was still made in America.
We had kelvinator refrigerator that never required repair, and never had any trouble with compressor in more than two decades that I saw of it, then there were Racold geysers that kept on functioning like forever.

Same with Crompton fans, never did they make any sound, unlike my recent purchase half of which have started making tick tick noise.

All made in India, so it seems that at that time, quality mattered.

Aarosh, what is with putting up news clippings in bulk and creating so many threads just on some content published elsewhere... SEO thingy?
If you find my posts confrontationist, please bear, I am an old frustrated guy who has nothing better to do than sit on rocking chair and curse the world whole day
#8 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:00
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These are sacrifices we must make for technology to progress so that we can make the earth more sustainable. Repairing is not necessarily the best way to achieve sustainable development, and it is certainly not the best way to improve everyone's living standards. An alternative is recycling. Products today are being designed to be more and more recyclable. That way, they can be 1) cheap enough for everyone to buy, not just rich people, and 2) sustainable.

Also, I think people are confusing "long lasting" and "better." Yes, longevity is one part of being better, but specifically in case of cars and fridges, longevity is undesirable. Fridges of the past used extremely hazardous coolants, and cars of the past are energy intensive and not emissions compliant. The longer they are used, the worse their effects on the environment.
#9 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:24
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Originally Posted by Matka View Post An alternative is recycling. Products today are being designed to be more and more recyclable. That way, they can be 1) cheap enough for everyone to buy, not just rich people, and 2) sustainable.
Old refrigerators used glass wool insulation, 100% recyclable, today they use PU foam, a very difficult candidate in recycling process Old refrigerators used iron body, iron frame trays etc, today they use plastic and so on.

Basically, old refrigerators were 100% recyclable again and again without using much energy, today plastic recycled will not be used again in refrigerators as it require virgin plastic, same with PU foam.

The longevity aspect of old products made them environmentally way better than present products. Of course, that does not make much sense economically. I agree with CFC issue though compared to presently used stuff like hfc-134a etc.
#10 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:41
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Originally Posted by OldandRambling View Post Yes, modern items function better than the old ones in most cases, but that is not the point... When our modern items fail, we throw them out rather than repair them. Many modern items are designed to be unrepairable, to stimulate new purchases.
Between throwing stuff out instead of repairing, and buying new items because the old still working ones are "unfashionable", we are using up the worlds finite resources.(Typed on my 10 year old computer... )Ed.
Our Kenwood Chef mixer+blender from 1970 has for the first time stopped working nothing serious, a real workhorse,but I hopefully intend to repair it as parts are still made and not expensive but I doubt that any of the children will want it . They made them to last! My parents back in the 50s got a kenwood sent out to them but the boat sankbut year later a box turned up at the house with the mixer that had been in the sea maybe half a year. My father likes a challenge and was handy with his hands and had patience restored it to working order
I have worked with my hands all my life and I get great pleasure and admire wathching a workman who is also a craftsman at work and here is one
From Bhopal
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#11 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:42
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Originally Posted by jituyadav View Post
All made in India, so it seems that at that time, quality mattered.
It's not a question of Made in America v. Made in India, one being better than another. As you say, quality mattered. Like clothes for example: my longest lasting clothes -- and yes, I can still fit into sizes I wore 20 yrs ago, yay me -- are made in America, not cheap, throw away Made in China crap. Style, substance, timeless, longevity. And it's why I shop mostly in vintage/resale clothing stores. Quality over trendiness.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jituyadav View Post Old refrigerators used glass wool insulation, 100% recyclable, today they use PU foam, a very difficult candidate in recycling process Old refrigerators used iron body, iron frame trays etc, today they use plastic and so on.

Basically, old refrigerators were 100% recyclable again and again without using much energy, today plastic recycled will not be used again in refrigerators as it require virgin plastic, same with PU foam.....
Exactly. What you said. I'll bet there are twice as many "modern" refrigerators in landfills compared to my 28 yr old fridge. And where I live, almost everything is recycled so I have no compunction about putting my old fridge on the street to be picked up when it's time to go.

Unfortunately nowadays sometimes things are more expensive to fix than to buy new.
#12 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:50
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@dcamrass - fantastic story. Brings to mind the hamam dasta (large iron mortar pestle) that we have - it survived the partition of India, among other things thrown at it and is now 80 and counting....



Edited as got to know the real age.
#13 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:55
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reweaving a cane chair on the street in Kolkata.....

a lost art. I'd have to search far and wide for that where I live.
#14 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:58
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Very nice picture Sama, captured his gaze well.
#15 Dec 30th, 2017, 20:59
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I asked first before I took his pic!
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