Reflexion on Articles

Do it yourself!

12:45 PM

This weekend as usual I read the newspaper supplements, namely the Times of India Crest Edition where they had two articles that sparked my curiosity, one was how the notion of DIY (Do it yourself) is catching up in India, and another one, far more interesting about why DIY isn’t really part of the lives of the middle class Indian. You can read the whole article here.

But one extract caught me chuckling, let me share it with you :

Mrinal Sarkar, a 50-year-old homemaker, wakes up three times every morning - once to give the car keys to the cleaner, once to open the door for the gardener and third to let the domestic help in. In between opening and closing the doors from 6-to-8 am, she likes to sneak back under the covers, like the snooze button on the phone alarm.

The cyclical sequence more or less continues through the day with almost hourly pilgrimages to the door for the retinue of the garbage guy, the cook, the driver, the dhobi, the sabziwala and the presswala. Any average day at a well-to-do household in India is punctuated by the doorbell. And it can be concluded that more the number of doorbells in a day, the better off the household.”

Not to long ago I wrote about how I welcomed the fact we moved into a less glitzy fancy building because the doorbell suddenly went mute too. In my old building the constant “ding dong” in the morning was driving me up the walls and even putting the garbage bag outside the door would not even prevent the garbage collector from ringing it to still ask if I had garbage to dispose of.
But this set aside this article reflects what I have been dealing with since moving to India.
You see in Switzerland we are hard-core DYI people, and I suddenly found myself in a land where when you are of a certain social level you aren’t supposed to do things, and just be home the whole day waiting for people to do the things for you. While granted that having a maid come in daily to help with the cleaning is almost necessary considering how fast the dirt piles up, and that for a girl like me who hates and truly abhors ironing (remember I once said I’d rather scrub the toilet than iron clothes) having a pressing service is nice. I can if needed, do without, judging by the tale of horrors some of my Indian neighbours told over the year feeling stuck with household when the maid got sick and cursing said hired help for not showing up I never completely related to that, because for me if the maid doesn’t show up, it sure is an inconvenience, but definitely not the end of my world the way some ladies around here would have wanted me to believe.

For me the fact that when a pipe burst or something need to be put on the wall is far more of an issue in India than the maid playing no show for a few days. Because thanks to the fact that hardware stores are in creepy places, still the bastion of male hood and tools not always affordable or quality meant that I have to wait for a handyman to deign showing up to my place to do the fixing, a thing that can take days, when if I had the proper tool and easy access to parts would have been solved in 5 minutes. As like every respected Swiss girl of my generation I know how to handle tools and fix stuff. You see where I come from when you move out of the parental home you start by doing a pilgrimage to IKEA to get yourself all the basic furniture you need since that’s the only store that will not put a dent in your meagre new grown up budget, you then proceed to the home essential and decor section in the same store to get yourself the “Kitchen starter box” that contains all the basics a fresh out of the nest 20 something will need to cook in their studio apartment, and on the way back home stop to a hardware store to buy yourself the standard life saving equipment: hammer, cutting pliers, flat pliers, a set of screwdrivers or best a sturdy one with a set or interchangeable head, a measuring tape and of course the good old plastic tool box to put it all in and keep it handy at home. Power tools such as a drill comes in or later or in my case still had enough friends and family around within a short distance ready to lend theirs.
You earn your stripes by setting up your home, save all the oh so practical Allen keys coming with each pack of Swedish furniture, drill holes in your wall yourself to mount your shelves, cook your first meal from scratch in the starter box items and you suddenly feel like a grown up to take seriously.
Not to say that any of us didn’t already have a brush on with tools, and household chores before moving out. I like all kids in my homeland went through several rite of passage: the time you are old enough to be sent doing the grocery for mom, the time your parents decide it is time to include you into the remodelling of the kitchen/bedroom/living or building shelves for the family boat, so that you get to know what tools look like, the day you hit the teenage years and you suddenly want to change the wallpaper in your bedroom and your dad says, “Ok fine you can use your Fall school break to do that” which in my case meant driving to a home depot kind of store, buy my big girl wallpaper and the tools necessary to remove my old one. My dad giving me a 5 minutes demo on how to remove old wallpaper using a sponge and a spatula rather than renting the steaming machine to do it. Then him to tell me to go to the hardware store buy some ceiling dispersion and another pot of acrylic paint to repaint the radiator, which again he briefly taught me how to do myself, the only thing he did himself but not without letting me off the hook was apply the new wallpaper. He applied it on the walls, I was to prep the sheets on the gluing table, and finally he was the one to teach me how to remove an old wall to wall carpet without causing any damage to the flooring underneath long before I decided to do an apprenticeship as a decorator. His reasoning like the reasoning of many parents, is that it is fine to have some desires to change your room as a teen, but one need to learn the value of the hard work involved in doing so, or in any handiwork. You see back home we think that if you personally applied some sweat and elbow grease doing any kind of work you respect the outcome even more and keep it neat and tidy. I have no idea if that notion is present anywhere else in Europe, but the Swiss do value hard work big time. Small services are or non-existent or cost a lot. A maid service means a cleaning lady coming once a week for one or two hours to do heavy cleaning like the bathrooms if the person hiring her cannot do it themselves for a reason or another, and that cost as much if not more than what I pay for my maid here in India to come in daily and cook on top of it.
People fortunate to have a house in Switzerland usually do all the gardening including the lawn mowing themselves, and if still fit enough will even cut their own edges because buying the electric saw to do it is still cheaper than hiring a professional. And as a decorator I worked for the rich Elite, very few even have a full time maid, and even if they do I have seen more than my fair share of millionaire’s wife still doing the dusting and cleaning.
We are all basically taught to function in an independent manner from a very early age. That said my living in India for so long has made me realise that some services like home deliveries of groceries (practically non-existent back home) has some advantage if you are sick, or the load is too heavy for you to carry all by yourself, but I am still yet to bend in to the “call the store and have them deliver just the milk” mind-set, I had people question why I bothered at all going to the kirana store while pregnant to buy a pack of cookies and a bottle of limca I suddenly found myself craving, the store was down the street mind you. And my reply was “I’m pregnant, not invalid, beside walking is good for everybody”.
My reasoning with the whole kirana store thing, is that if I can’t find myself motivated enough to go walk there myself it means I am not desperate enough for whatever I wanted to buy in the first place.

Both articles in that supplement highlighted what I have been wondering for years: “The day IKEA will finally come to India, will it even be a successful concept?” India is not a country with a DYI culture, and IKEA will still be seen as a “luxury” brand rather than the “Democratic design store” it is abroad, those who will be afford to buy IKEA will likely be the one to feel irked at the idea of spending “Good Money” and having to assemble the thing themselves…worse having to go pick the flat box in the warehouse hangar in the store itself. To me it seems that IKEA will have to tweak their die hard DYI formula to suit the Indian market in the same way Pizza Hut had to come with tandoori paneer spicy pizzas and Mc D remove the beef and add a few more veg option to their menu. Without such twists none of these brands could survive in the Indian market.


  1. Oh I hope & pray IKEA comes to India by the time our new apartment is ready in Delhi!!!!

    I bet IKEA will have to have a 'service' to assemble their furniture in India.

    My Indian husband was absolutely amazed that I packed a toolbox in the container I had sent from the US!!!

    Yes, I have hammers, an electric screwdriver, a set of spanners, painting equipment (rollers, masking tape etc) a drill, a toilet auger, - you name it I probably got it!

    My mom had a restaurant in the US & was also an accountant.

    My dad had a cabinetry mill, a jewelry & watch repair store, & an auto repair & tow shop. (Yes he was a carpenter, cabinet maker, auto mechanic, watchmaker, goldsmith & jeweler thanks to the Veteran's bill after World War II)

    Doing things 'yourself' was definitely taught in our house too.

  2. I used to work with power tools the whole week long, so I never really felt the need to have my own at home because if I could not borrow them from work, I still had my dad and a fmily friends that had the drills and electric screwdrivers lying around, but like everybody I had my set of basic tools around, and added things like varnish, solvents, all purpose screws, and nails paint, over the year, I had a big hardware store within a walkable distance from my place, that sold everything one can need to fix a problem in their home. DH managed to find a few basic tools a few years ago, but they are all the cheap quality type because there wasn't much back then, and they are all completely rusted now, so I will need to find some new tools one of these days, I would probably even be better off getting myself a drill and put an end to that whole "waiting for the carpenter" thing each time we move to a new place.

    The fact that a lot of things in India has you dependant on others is extremely disabling at time.

  3. apple6:05 PM


    In India labor is cheap and in abundance unlike in the west where I have come to understand, it is very expensive. Moreover, our culture taught us that those with education are at the top of the hierarchy, like Brahmins and those who did things with hands artisans, farmers etc., or ethe sudras, are at the the bottom. The British refined it further. They made pen pushing a prestigious job. They created a whole generation of educated Indians to serve the civil service.

    Parents often threaten children saying that if you do not study, you will end up doing manual jobs like washing dishes, digging trenches etc. In short, get good education, so that you never have to do manual jobs and you make others work for you. It is very natural in a society where everyone is struggling to make ends meet and trying to latch on to any kind of advantage to make life more comfortable be it educational, social of political.

  4. Trust me the threat of being a cashier for the rest of your life if you are poor in school exist in Switzerland too, the difference is that college student will work as cashier to pay their accomodation and tuition in switzerland so it's a temp thing too.

    Anyway judging by the amount of cribbing I hear from my Indian friend, clearly the dependance on labour for everything is no longer a solution, labour don;t show up, does a bad job and yep I had several occurence of being stuck with a leaking sink that cannot be used without flooding the kitchen a couple of times, each time it took several day for the plumber to come, so no life is not more comfortable for the Indian Elite, because they end up at the mercy of labour that take them for a ride, often for problem that could have been fixed in minute if one had access to the proper tools, 9 years in India for me, and living with DH, and he is now converted to the Do it yourself idea whenever it is possible to do so because he is as fed up as anybody having to wait on these people to show up.

  5. apple6:03 PM

    The thing about tools is that you have to be well versed in their use. Try fixing your TV or door knob without knowledge, you are more likely to damage it. Secondly, the jobs which foreigners take up in the student age like working in restaurants etc., are already snapped up by people because of the huge population. These jobs are not available to students.

    Thirdly, the competitive academic environment of India, leave very little time for the children to concentrate on extra curricular activities especially during the 11th and 12th. Academics is a full time job for children in India more like a battlefield.

    Moreover, the parents think that as long as they are there, the child should not think about earning money but concentrate on his/her studies. Once the education is complete, there are plenty of opportunities to earn. This does rob the children of gaining different experience but such the social and economic insecurity in India, there is no other way but to go hard after academics.

  6. No there is another way than going hard into academics, this is once again the great "This India so we can't do anything else" remix.
    Many of the greatest mind and entrepreneurs in the world were school drop outs, or never pursued academics seriously, academics the way it is taught in India is nothing but a fancy memory trick, you can be dumb as soup and still ace an exam, that will however not bring you success in life.

  7. A Merican Punjaban PI9:02 PM

    I've not seen any students trying to work with the exception of one in India. It's my understanding from all of the Indians I know, both natives and NRI's that student's don't work at all until their studies are over. (As you said.) The only student I know of to ever work before completing his studies had a drunk for a father and he had to work so he could go to school. He didn't finish and he has a good paying job. My point though is that the jobs you mentioned wouldn't be taken by students in India because the student's don't actually work. I also feel that the jobs that society would see as student jobs are not things like working in restaurants in India. Youth fill different roles in the retail landscape than adults do regardless of country.

    There are many opportunities out there for Indians but many don't realize it. They are set in the "old ways" and still trying to do everything the way the world around them says they should. With the broadening of India's retail and career landscapes it is good but not necessary to have a college degree. Pencil pushing jobs aren't the only good jobs, otherwise the IT sector wouldn't be thriving right now. A lot of those guys are well educated but wouldn't know how to file papers in an office to save their lives.

    I've also noticed that most students don't do anything more than memorize what they have to know. They expect to get a job with their degree and then the job is supposed to teach them what to do. So they're not really bringing any knowledge with them. They just memorize these things until the exam is over then they forget everything they know. Having a college degree - or any other piece of paper - is not an indication of intelligence.

    I'm not sure what to make of your tools comment. Here in the US even young children have no difficulty working with tools. We are taught a wide variety of trades growing up and most kids have learned how to use a hammer, wrench and screwdriver by age 7. More powerful tools are taught in some circumstances by age 15. Some schools even offer courses in using special tools for automobiles, home building, etc. I know these things are not offered in India but here parents demand these things as part of a well rounded education. The average American doesn't need to hire anyone to do minor work for them but can choose to.

    "This does rob the children of gaining different experience but such the
    social and economic insecurity in India, there is no other way but to go
    hard after academics."

    I agree with you on this. Indian children are robbed of valuable life experience because people think that academics is everything. Academics will help you in some ways, but they cannot teach you to have a fulfilled life.

  8. A Merican Punjaban PI9:19 PM

    I'm not sure which "west" you're referring too as there's more than 200 non-Indian countries. Comparatively though, Maldova, Malawi, Kenya, Haiti and Georgia are just a few of the many places where labor is less than half the cost of Indian laber per month.

  9. Bill Gates dropped out of college and set up his own company Microsoft so was the case with the founder of Facebook.The society gives confidence to the individual to pursue unconventional ideas. Here, if you drop out of school/college you are nowhere. It is a reality which cannot be ignored. When we compare India with the west (predominantly white countries as per the understanding here), you have to look at the socio-economic path that these countries took compared to India. No offence meant,

    These countries are mostly inhabited by people belong to the same race (most of them) who set the social standards there. This created a uniform culture leading to a sense of belonging shared by the citizens towards their country which is not the case with India which has people of many races. Moreover, there is no caste or religious interference in everyday life in the west.Once you don't have societal/ religious constraints, you can explore and find new ideas leading to development. In short, your mind is uncluttered.

    Secondly, these countries were never invaded or occupied as is the case with India. They actually made themselves prosperous through colonialism and exploiting the resources of the indigenous people of their own country. Their resources were intact with them, leading to greater prosperity with hard work.

    In India, we have come from a stage where people were only worried about survival and earning the next meal. Life in India was never easy even for the middle class. Thirty years ago, the middle class and the lower classes were having more or less the same lifestyle. We have survived with that mentality. However, with the opening of the economy and new job prospects, we will may soon have alternate viable careers in fields other than academics. My arguments are not about "this is India so it is impossible". It is about the reasons why we are what we are.

  10. I'll give you one Indian name among many probably the most famous Indian entrepreneur to have been a highschool drop out: Dirhubhai Ambani

    there are many actors in Bollywood without a college degree that earn big bucks, and new entrepreneurs as well, there was an article in a newspaper recently about the lady who founded the bag brand "baggit".

    You are entitled to you opinion, but even DH all Indian that he is will tell you that college degrees are hyped, especially the god allmighty MBA...he gave in to it, he has his MBA, but realised very quickly afterward that if you don't have any spirit of initiative, think outside the box and do things to make your life happen you just end up working the 9-5 pencil pusher job just the same and see no career growth happen. The fact is that you can go everywhere you want in this world, and in the end it's not where you got your degree or how many books you read in a library or how many research document you got published that makes a's your life experience. Even in India, they are more likely to hire one that has life experience over the one who doesn't even if they graduated from the same school with the same paper. It's the one that comes up with ideas in a project that will get promoted. And these are the skills that worldwide are not taught in any school. In europe you can apply with a degree from Cambridge for a position if you wish, but if you never had any work experience in your life, nobody will care that you have a prestigious degree...the guy from community college with a similar degree will likely get the job over you if he put that he worked every Summer break, even if the job was delivering Pizza for pizza hut or scrubbing the toilet clean in a corporate office.

    But hey back to the begining...can I know why on earth do you need to be so defensive each time I trace parallels between where I grew up and where I live now? Because it's not the first comment you post that take a lecturing tone about how the Indian system is this and that and that's who we are...Like you need to lecture the foreigner that I am.

    If you read my post carefully, you'll see that I don't criticise India for being more of a "do it for me nation" I offered a parallel to what was written in the Times Of India article I shared the link of...oh by the way written by an Indian. Which arise the same points I have been noticing for years living in India. And how I personnaly observed that the DIY model if IKEA I knew from back home simply because as a keen observer of the world around me I knew all along that IKEA as it is known abroad will NOT work without alteration in India, even if the new generation is more DIY than the previous.
    And yes the education system is questionned and challenged by many too, who are Indian. Homeschooling as a trend is going up, schools are forced to see that more and more parents want their kids to have a better rounded education.

    And here is my little "secret" though I'd hardly call that one: I am proud to say that I have no college education, my mother tongue is French, I learned English's basics in highschool but when I got out of it I was nowhere near fluent, only exposure and practice efforts from my own side achieved that. I can hold simple conversations in Italian and German, I'm not fluent because I never needed to or felt compelled to be fluent at the time I studied it, I can understant enough Spanish, and a fair amount of Hindi, even though I really don't speak it fluently. 90% of the skills I learned that make me who I am today, I learned outside of school.
    I never wanted to attend college because I beat my own drum, but if you wondered about my inteligence...well I have an IQ of 127...just saying.

  11. I am sorry if I had offended you. I never meant to lecture you. And, I surely did not say these things because you are foreigner. I merely suggested that a more prosperous country gives confidence to individuals to take their own decisions. So, I put forth a historical/social analysis of the societies of the east and west. It was not meant to offend/lecture anybody. My analysis may be flawed, I am not defensive about my country but when we wonder why things are different in India, we have look into our historical/social past which shaped our views. Anyway, I took the discussion somewhere else. Your article was not about it I guess.. As you put forth your views in the article, I gave my take on the issue.


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