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Getting to Grips with Gadgets and Gizmos

By Anamika Mukherjee

I don’t consider myself a stupid person. As far as I know, those who know me don’t consider me a stupid person either (quite the contrary, I may modestly say). I have managed to pass all the tests I have ever taken in my life at the first attempt, even the notoriously miserable driving test in Illinois, US.

So I would aver that I am not a stupid person.

Why, then, do all things mechanical conspire to make me feel stupid?

Who hasn’t had that frustrating experience, when faced with a dysfunctional gadget of some kind (from light bulb to car to computer), of calling in the experts and demonstrating the problem to them, only to find that the bloody gadget works fine as long as the technician is around? And then, the moment he smirks at you and turns his back, it is back to its old tricks again!

Take the washing machine. No rocket science here: you close the door, turn this knob here, turn on the water and the electricity (don’t forget to add the detergent and what-have-you) and it should work, right?

Mostly, but not always. Sometimes, it plays dead. Other times, it starts whirring and spews water out of the connector to the tap. Or it runs through the entire program and stops, but when you try to open the door, it won’t open. Yes, yes, I know you have to wait two minutes to let it recover from all that strenuous work of spinning or whatever, but even after waiting two hours, it won’t open. What could be wrong? I try turning off the power and turning it on again, but Amit screams at me. If you do that, you’ll need to run the whole wash cycle again, he says. Turning on the power locks the door. Well, it was locked already, wasn’t it? What I want is to unlock it, I point out. Let me try, he says, and he pulls the door and the damn thing opens!

Then, famously, when the wash mach was still new, I tried to run it and it wouldn’t start. I consulted the manual and checked everything: clothes loaded (check), detergent in (check), door closed (check), water connected (check) and water and power supply on (of course, dammit). But it refused to whirr or whiz or make any other sound to indicate that it was alive.

Amit came, saw, and called the technician. Technician was busy and could only come three days later. Disaster. Dirty undies. As days passed and the situation inexorably deteriorated to critical state, Amit decided to have another go at it. We got into a lengthy and complicated discussion about the manner in which the machine controlled the water supply. He disconnected the inlet hose from the tap and re-connected it. No result. Next, he turned his attention to the power supply. After another 30 minutes, no result. He adjusted the position of the machine, checking with a spirit level that it was on the level (though why that should prevent it from working I don’t know). Still no result. He went through the manual forwards and backwards and upside down. All to no avail.

Finally, in desperation, he opened the machine, took out some of the dirty clothes (was he intending to wear them the next day? – I don’t know and don’t want to know!) and shut the door again. Bingo! It started at once. Was it overloaded? I asked solicitously. For reasons of decency I can’t print his exact reply here, but the gist of it was that I had neglected to shut the door “properly”. By the time the technician arrived, the stupid machine was buzzing away happily to itself.

So much for the washing machine.

Cars, now. They are much better, on the whole, than they used to be. Nowadays, when you start a car, you can reasonably expect it to start. Mostly. But I have one irritating and recurring problem with our car which cars of old, thank goodness, didn’t have. It’s the central locking feature that gets me. Centre button is for silent, which I think is a feature that should be default on all cars (to prevent them disturbing the peace of a Sunday morning at 6.15 a.m). The top button is for locking and the bottom one for unlocking. I think. Anyway, I have found that whatever I do, the car locks or unlocks itself according to some mysterious will of its own, and it never, never, NEVER obeys my command for silence. Inevitably, it squawks at me and I have to tell it rudely to shut up. For Amit, of course, it works perfectly.

Two wheelers are much simpler. Mine has been with me for close to five years now and the only way in which it lets me down is to stall when I am on the way and running late for a desperately important appointment. Like the time when it was raining and two of us were on the way to a friend’s wedding (silk saris and fancy footwear), which would have been held 45 minutes ago, and we still had to stop and pick up a gift. Or the time I was on the way to my MA final year exams and the handle bar locked and wouldn’t straighten up, almost causing me a heart attack (in which event the exam wouldn’t have mattered much).

Or, more recently, the time I was on my way to perform in a concert, running just a little late. I took the bike off the central stand and gave the starter a good firm kick. It didn’t start, and the kick-start mechanism went and got stuck under the central stand! There I was looking more than a little ridiculous, clutching handbag and violin, helmet strapped on over a full-sleeved black shirt and long black skirt, struggling to disentangle the starter from the stand, with which it had got inexplicably and inextricably entwined.

Suffice it so say that I made it to the venue on time, but didn’t perform too well.

About clocks and watches that gain and lose time with no reason other than to cause one embarrassment or disaster, I will say not much, except to damn them in passing.

Likewise, I will not dwell at length on microwaves and boiled eggs and coffee. Their antics, I think, are well known to all.

But the humble toaster, one would expect, should not cause one much grief. Except of course, for occasionally creating charcoal instead of toast, a risk one must accept as an inevitable outcome of unevenly sliced bread. But toasters really cannot cause much more damage than that, one would think. And one would be wrong, because toasters, as I found to my shock, can also start giving one mild a electric shock as a pleasant accompaniment to toast and charcoal.

And the list goes on. Storage water heaters that unexpectedly produce stone cold water. Refrigerators that turn vegetables to stone for no apparent reason. Telephones that mysteriously call numbers that you never asked them to. And computers, of course. Computers that throw up all sorts of cheeky messages. That eat up files that you urgently need and spew out garbage that you will never ever need. I could go on at length about the antics of computers, but that – now, that is another story.

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Comments and information welcome. Write to anamika dot mukherjee at amukherjeeworld dot net
Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.