My friend Parameswaran Natarajan is among the most talented people I have ever met. Param worked at an automotive magazine and wrote engaging copy, apart from being an ace photographer. He was a great rider and driver; he could take apart engines and put them together in a jiffy; he could whip up a delicious meal in little time; and, he could repair nearly anything. (He also talks incessantly but that is more of an affliction). I was not surprised when he gave up journalism, vegetated for a while and then started a furniture store in Bengaluru. That’s what he does these days — he makes elegant furniture and sells it, and he also manages to find time to, as I learnt from a recent post on Facebook, acquire and undertake DIY restorations of “a 1980s, huge capacity Sanyo electric oven that works silently and efficiently; a rare 1936 GEC ‘Magnet’ electric oven that now bakes to perfection; and, a good old Rallifan from the 1970s, with a die-cast aluminium body and chrome detailing”. If Param is a do-it-yourself kind of guy, I am a why-don’t-you-do-it-for-me person. I will spare you the gory details of my dunderheadedness around things that have to be put together or made from scratch, but let’s just say that if the future of this planet depended upon my drilling a nail into a wall and hanging a mask or a framed photograph on it, civilisation as we know it would be doomed.
Now, I don’t know whether it’s just me (sometimes I think it is), but, of late, I have noticed a fair number of men who are indifferent to the sense of accomplishment that comes from setting things right or building little or big things. Our fathers, in all probability, repaired their own motorcycles and cars, but we can’t do jackshit because everything these days is controlled by a goddamned chip. The founding fathers of this country wrote an entire bloody Constitution, but we, on the other hand, appear intent on dynamiting its very foundation. We talk breathlessly about the specs of our latest cell phones, but the evil empires we are beholden to have decreed that no one should ever be able to replace the batteries of their devices.
Truly, we appear to be half the DIY men our fathers were.
Not long ago, I, of all people, was invited to check out a DIY Square, in Bengaluru. The company behind the said space is Bosch. You know Bosch, right? The German engineering and electronics company is big on automotive components, industrial products and building products. So, yes, brakes, packaging technology, fuel systems and power tools are words that feature a lot in its literature. The last of these you can use at home to build yourself another home, or furniture, or a spaceship. The plan was to hang around at the DIY Square, negotiate my way around the Hobby, Home and Garden sections and tinker with the tools — drills, electrician’s kits, alignment tools, metal detectors (for easy wall drilling, duh) and precision screw drivers — before getting down to building something that could be put to use. I was cool with steps 1 and 2, and, in fact, was even mildly infatuated with the IXO, the world’s smallest cordless screwdriver, and a multipurpose toolkit that contained a sweet-looking drilling machine, along with nylon fixings and screws, a combination plier, an adjustable wrench and a claw hammer.
When the time came to do what I had to do, however, I just stood there staring at the amiable Bosch rep. He put me out of my misery by helpfully suggesting that we could look at making a wine-bottle holder. Of course. But, how the fuck was I supposed to do that? In the next hour, with a lot of assistance, I did manage to do precisely that and learnt that it takes a fair bit of work to make one. And, it involves imagination, a sense of proportion, precision, an electric saw, a thingy that punches holes into wood and something else that smoothens wood. Soon, a block of wood turned into an unvarnished but elegant wine-bottle holder, and, as I was handed my creation, I examined it with mild disbelief. Did I actually contribute to the making of it? An acute sense of shame came over me, accompanied by the realisation that, left to my own devices, I would be hard-pressed to build anything of use to humanity. Someday, I plan to take Param to that DIY Square — he will have the time of his life. Me? I’ll just recede non-usefully into the background.