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Cover Story

DIFM: Do it for me


Our consummate laziness - and the unending supply of cheap labour - does not allow the DIY culture to take off in India.

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. Left to ourselves, we wouldn't even know how to operate a car wash, fill petrol in our cars, change a fuse, set up a wireless system in our house, tighten a leaky faucet or even hang a painting on the wall.

It is, therefore, no wonder that it is in a country like India a popular tourist joke is that a sign for hot, running water is not actually steaming water from a shower but a skinny boy (possibly running) delivering tepid water in a bucket to your room. The do-it-yourself (DIY) concept in a country where every urban household is practically an assembly line towards a functional home is unthinkable.

The manpower smorgasbord is not limited to the home. Even for tasks that involve braving sweltering heat, windpipe-choking dust and pollution, serpentine queues of traffic, there is a veritable ground army aka "agents" to attend to migraine-inducing errands - bank work, investments, post office work, income tax returns and even precious commodities such as Tatkal train tickets. The lack of drive-throughs and the omnipresence of delivery boys zipping like bots all over cities and towns is evidence enough of that.

Thanks to the consummate Indian laziness, the mortal fear of bureaucracy and queues, and accessible, cheap and a well-stratified labour force, there is someone for every thing. The need for a "chhotu" has initiated a few errand companies as well.

GetMyPeon. com in Mumbai, for instance, will run around the city practically for any errand for a fee. Bharat Ahirwar, the 27-year-old founder, says, "People don't want to stand in queues or make an extra stop on the way to work or back because that extra stop takes away a lot of time and traffic is a big issue. " Ahirwar's company, which has five errand-runners on its staff now but is being increased, charges Rs 200 per errand plus local transport cost. He is full of anecdotes about quirky and bizarre errands he has been subjected to.

"One of our clients wanted a few ten-rupee stamps delivered. Our boy went all the way from Dadar to Andheri (East) only to buy the stamps which were available five minutes away from her office and deliver them, " says Ahirwar.

Time is, of course, one reason;the other is "why bother when I can pay cheaply for it". Ahirwar recounts numerous stories about clients who wanted forms to be filled up before college admissions, punctured bicycles to be picked up, repaired and returned, secret Santa deliveries, runs to the tailor, car servicing, grocery and vegetable shopping, updating bank passbooks, picking up medicines - the list is endless. "The most common request we get if, of course, for paying phone bills. And they are always on the due date and always urgent but the most common clients are designers who always need something picked up from a vendor and something delivered to a client, " says Ahirwar. He had previously run a similar but unsuccessful company called AtYourService (monthly secretarial services). During the course of that service, he realized that people don't want a permanent peon for a salary but someone who would run around for specific requests.

Though, at present, many home furnishings stores supply disassembled furniture (with a carpenter who accompanies the shipment), an urban Indian's first introduction to DIY furniture was the futon. Hardly the most complicated furniture to assemble, the futon presented the revolutionary idea that nuts, bolts and slats of wood hold furniture together. While Ikea, the foremost name in minimalistic furniture that needs to be assembled by buyers (for cost-cutting ), is poised to enter the Indian market, it can be safely concluded that assembly services will be essential. The idea of a bed in a flat box will be inconceivable for most here. Ikea has adapted its DIY concept in countries such as China and Turkey (emerging economies with cheap labour), where the idea of self-serve did not sit well and where it now provides assembly services for a fee.

In a world where you can build yourself everything from a microscope to a drone to your own mobile network, learn almost everything online, the surfeit of spoon feeding from childhood cannot bode well. Clayton Christensen, a leading authority on disruptive innovation and an author, says that "kids who grow up to be exceptionally creative seem to have one experience in common: their parents were DIY people. When something broke down, at least one of their parents didn't immediately call a repairman or woman. Rather they tried to fix it themselves first". For the sake of your children's future, parents might want to take a shot at that broken down lamp before lunging for the speed dial.

Reader's opinion (1)

Mohanrao VinnakotaFeb 4th, 2013 at 19:41 PM

DIY for many is equal to DYH (dirty your hands) symbolically. That is infradig as showing off is the very essence of our ego and swadharma I.e.laziness is supreme.D0 not follow paradharma by ironing your own shirt or make coffee as same is stree dharma outside the kitchen.
Laziness to dirtiness.

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