Citylights Society

A cool, calm character

This is an obituary. My elderly refrigerator died peacefully in its sleep one Friday night. I woke up on Saturday morning to find that its innards had melted into a puddle. Kidney malfunction, clearly. I checked its vital signs. No pulse, zero respiration, abnormally warm body. It was too late for CPR so I tried kick-starting the heart: twisting the temperature control knob to elevate the coldness level. No response. Like old Marley, it was as dead as a doornail.

How considerate of it to pass away at a convenient time, before its practically bare shelves could be loaded with the weekend shopping, after the last of the foil-wrapped fish slices in the freezer had been devoured. But then it had always been a selfless chap — hold on! This is beginning to sound ludicrous, isn’t it? Anthropomorphism usually does. Well, you can snigger all you want, because I’m going to anthropomorphise away like billy-o. Treating an inanimate object as if it were part of our species is not, I believe, as objectionable as the behaviour of some animal-lovers who so utterly humanise their pets that the poor creatures become psychologically disturbed and forget their natural instincts. All I’m doing is picturing my little 165-litre fridge as a loyal page boy. No harm done.

My slave served me for 28 long years — without a squeak, I might add. It protested mildly just twice in its lifetime: to get some wiring fixed and the ‘starter’ replaced. Cool, calm and collected, it worked so quietly you could hardly feel its presence in the room. In return, instead of heaping rewards upon it I treated it rather shabbily. Once it attained senior-citizenship I didn’t bother to connect it to a voltage stabiliser (my old one was obsolete by then), and when an occasional BESCOM snag would reduce power to a single phase, it would twitter on dimly for hours before I took note and turned it off. I would defrost it only when the freezer began to look like Antarctica. Defrost, yes, it was the old-fashioned sort. Which reminds me, it came with an instruction manual that I never bothered to read (does anyone?), and when I did, 28 years too late, out of a sense of nostalgia on having to bid the old fogey goodbye, I found that I was expected to depress the defrost button every two days, or at the very least every five. I also found that the manual had a quaint section at the end which gave out “tips for happy households” — not necessarily fridge-related, you understand. This was a cheery list of suggestions for everything from curing chapped heels and removing stubborn stains to cleaning window panes and turning postcards into bookmarks. Wear a large bindi if you have a high forehead, it said. Smokers should consume extra Vitamin C. Grow ferns and money-plants in pots and give them away as gifts.

In sharp contrast, the manual that came with my new refrigerator was not just devoid of light relief but positively discouraging. It proceeded to issue a great many Warning and Danger signs and then lapsed into technobabble. I read about electronic user interfaces and fresh-vent free-flow filters until my head began to spin. Better to just learn on the job, I thought. Use it and see. What I discovered when I started using it is old hat for most of you. I can see the puzzlement on your faces as you wonder whether you’ve stepped into a time machine. But my long-time readers will explain to you that (a) when it comes to any new technology I’m usually around a quarter of a century behind the rest of the world and (b) since I’m anti consumerism, I never replace white goods or other appliances until they’re ready to fall apart. So kindly put up with me while I gush over how efficiently my frost-free fridge handles four-hour power cuts; how I don’t need to open the ‘flap’ of the chill tray and empty out the water, or walk about frowning and muttering “the fish will get spoilt”. Since the inner surfaces are liberally sprinkled with apertures, I don’t have to arrange the contents so that the most perishable item is placed on the topmost shelf (which used to be the coldest, in the 28-year-old). I can blithely leave the milk sachet in the chiller overnight with no fear of its turning into a block of ice by morning. And I can be reasonably confident that the greens will stay for days together without going limp and soggy.

Since this is an obituary I must talk about the last moments of the departed soul. Before it could be whisked away I had to temporarily store its contents in the fridge of a kind neighbour. Then I had to perform a very important task: remove the fridge magnets! The ornaments that would adorn the new arrival were: Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, which a student had gifted me; Shakespeare’s natal house, which I’d bought on my pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon; and the ‘A’ Train, which a jazz-loving friend had got me from New York. Suitably bedecked, my shiny grey fridge now looms imposingly over the living room. But since nothing is built to last, in our consumer economy, I don’t foresee it toiling and moiling for the next 28 years.

(Send your feedback to ckmeena@gmail.com)


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 11:18:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-cool-calm-character/article7655516.ece

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