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The Substitution Effect

Posted on 19/09/2021 by Trivia-The Spice of Life

Readers who have a knowledge of economics will be extremely disappointed when they read this post. Substitution effect in economics is defined as the effect on demand of a price change caused by a switch to, or away from, a cheaper or more expensive alternative. However, I am talking about more mundane things like the temporary substitution of the house help.

The festive season in Mumbai also means the time when house helps take their much coveted ten day break. They travel to their hometowns to celebrate with friends and family. I have always maintained that no one is indispensable. Having said that, one is in a quandary when dealing with a temporary replacement. When there is certainty that the person whom you had relied on has left for good, then your mental conditioning is perfect. You feel like investing time and energy in training the new person. However, in the case of a stop gap arrangement, it is very difficult to develop detachment and not pine for the regular incumbent who has left, albeit for a short break.

In office while the concept of giving charge to someone when proceeding on leave is well established, when it comes to the domestic scenario, such temporary handing over of charge could be disastrous, both for the employer and the employee. You can see that I am pouring my heart out!!

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The uniqueness of India is that a majority of us still thrive on ghar ka khaana (घर का खाना or home cooked food) though Swiggy, Zomato and their likes have made considerable inroads. This explains the reason why there are dabbawalas in Mumbai who transport fresh home cooked food to officegoers. This is perhaps not the case in other countries. For example, reports suggest that Americans are leaving their stoves, ovens, countertops and cutting boards behind — or, at least, untouched a lot more often than earlier. 

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While there is no doubt that there is nothing to beat ghar ka khaana (घर का खाना), whipping up a fresh meal two times a day is an ordeal, when there is no domestic help for support and the work front also has to be managed. Even if you arrange for a replacement to tide over those ten days (वो दस दिन/woh dus din !!), that is hardly any guarantee for smooth sailing. It takes some time to train someone about your tastes, preferences and dietary restrictions. In fact, satisfying someone else’s palate is one of the toughest tasks to accomplish. Each family has its own way of making food. By the time you train the replacement, it is time for him/her to leave. Who would want to play this zero sum game??

While the replacements brag about being the finest cooks, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. After a practical display of culinary skills, you find out that you have actually got a very raw d(e)al. It soon turns out to be a monsoon of discontent. With such frayed nerves, how can one expect any kind of creativity to bloom?

Only Upendranath Ashk, the famous Hindi playwright comes to your rescue. In one of his one act plays (unfortunately, I forget which) the protagonist is very excited about some poetry that he has penned. He invites a friend home and starts reciting his poem. Each time he starts with the first line – मुस्कुराई है कुई की आँख (meaning there is perceptible happiness – a smile – in the eye of the lotus), there is some crisis on the domestic front. He is just not able to get past the first line. He is so frustrated that he eventually changes the line to डबडबाई है कुई की आँख – meaning there is perceptible sadness – tears – in the eye of the lotus and the curtain falls.

2 thoughts on “The Substitution Effect

  1. Handing over the charge in domestic scenario, particularly unexpectedly and unplanned, can have huge upheavals in the family life. So well said.

    However, in the present day situations when both the spouses are full-time working persons, such eventualities have to be factored in the real life.

    That was more a theoretical scenario that I can not really envisage so well, at my now-just-crossed- 70- age. But one of the spouses being out of circuit – either because one may have to be with their children living in other city or other country, or, god forbidding, one may fall sick – are the real scenarios that I have faced. In both cases, the situation had come up, rather, unplanned.

    It took quite an effort to outsource the meals for me.

    I do now help my wife in some her kitchen chores – the one that she would permit me without putting her to more difficulties – bu the actual cooking is a still project that neither she would permit nor I would dare to undertake.

    Liked by 1 person

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