Sunday, March 9, 2008

Don't Do-It-Yourself

IKEA has everything we need: desk, spoons, sheets, candles – in short, a homeful, under one roof. Unfortunately, IKEA’s not here. We try to buy a bookcase, in every shop which IS here, except the bookshop, funnily enough. Mumbai residents do own books, there’s a “Crossword” bookshop on every street corner. So, where do they keep them? CD racks, 10 a rupee. If only books were all five inches square. And lamps. If you don’t want to illumine a Star Wars set, or a brothel, you’re out of luck. IKEA would seem to be the ideal solution – yet the Kings of Flat Pack wouldn’t last a minute, in a country where “Do-It-Yourself” is virtually out-lawed. At the supermarket-checkout, I try doing-it-myself, to speed things along a little, but get an offended stare from the packing-man. Gently but firmly, he takes the washing-up liquid out of my left hand, and the carrier-bag out of my right. Without a word, I give in.
When we manage to find a desk (in a dress shop, obviously), we have to fill in a quadruplicate form with the usual essentials - bank account, inside leg, starsign, favourite ninja turtle, etc.. The Fabindia order book makes carbon copies in pink, yellow and blue, and we get the top white original to surrender on delivery. We check the date: it’s still 2008.
They don’t help themselves, these retailers. In The Dollar Shop (Mulund) – I’m not kidding – I ask my shadow acolyte, if there’s a kitchen-roll-holder on sale. “No have,” she says, sadly. “What’s this?” I ask, tentatively, holding up a kitchen-roll-holder. “Is tissue holder,” she says, dismissively. I buy it, behind her back. It’ll do for the kitchen-roll.
When I ring to check the progress of my new desk, I ask for Kabir, our only Fabindian friend in the world, but he’s on holiday. I’m passed along several other people, but as soon as the line clicks open, and I say, “Hello!” they say “Oh!” in great disappointment, and abandon me again. I hold the line, slightly incredulously listening to “Joy to the World!” and “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas,” as per my Mum’s “A Christmas Sing with Bing,” only played by a fairy orchestra, and without the voice. Marginally better than a synthesised version of “The Entertainer,” but, whichever way you cut it, it’s still surreal for the beginning of March.
Against all the odds, my desk’s a fortnight early. I wait in all day – nothing new there, then, Indian delivery men don’t have exclusive rights to that one. At six-thirty, when I’m ready to give up hope, the doorbell rings. Two men – one barefoot, one in his socks – carry the boxes in. “Where is desk?” one asks, which puzzles me at first, because if he doesn’t know, I’m sure I don’t. I eventually show them where the desk is going to live, and they set about unpacking and creating it in front of my very eyes. They hand me the little widget with a flourish, “Is finish, Madame!” This is where IKEA go wrong. All they give you are instructions in seven languages and a universal spanner for opening sardine-tins and horses’ hooves. It’ll take more than that, to make a master carpenter out of me. Give me a Fabindia aide-de-camp, with or without his socks, any day.