Growing fridge: A word repeated makes a game, like ‘teacher teacher’, ‘doctor doctor’ and ‘ghar ghar’. A game of real make believe, or in the case of the fridge, the fridge then, now and the future. The secrets of the kitchen “hearth” ironically rest within the cold place. What the fridge shows up are the immediate past, present and the future of what the family will eat. Kelvinator (the coolest one) and Allwyn (which win?), and later Voltas and Godrej were the grand 165 litre fridge brands in our home. They stored lots water, some fresh vegetables, butter, eggs, a vessel of boiled milk, some curds, some grated coconut, the fresh masala box with ginger, curry leaves, green chilies and lemon. This fridge of the 70s needed switching off to “defrost” and to carefully draw out the chiller tray laden with ice floes and long ice sticks. Ice cold water was noisily tipped into the sink after a quick dunking into the mouth, heedless of spoilsport adults.
The fridge was high maintenance then. Turkish towels soaked in the additional water to prevent pools. It was sparkling on the inside and the outside and that was when the fridge was the most prestigious, most expensive of the appliances in the middle class Indian home. It was the wall mounted LCD with surround sound home theater of today. Fridge circa 2007 is a 300 liter hunk from LG or Samsung. Bigger fridge meant more space and altering definitions of prestige. Samsung offered a mind-boggling range of 45 frost free varieties in sizes going up to 700 liters. The fridge was however quietly slid into the kitchen despite the designs and feature rich offerings. In modern open style kitchens, it is behind the counter, accessible to the dining and the cooking areas. The household help has free access to the fridge A recent advertising for LG with the ice cube dispensing puts it back into the drawing room and the cynosure of the eyes of a house party.
Elastic fresh: Housewives in Mumbai as in Ludhiana bought fresh vegetables morning and evening. Now they buy vegetables every two to three days. Fresh vegetables sold in supermarkets have redefined “fresh” for many urban women. Vegetables for “today” have moved to meaning “the week’s” vegetables. Elastic fresh also gives greater latitude to what can be bought and cooked. The two minute Maggi meant fast forward on what will be cooked. It means that mothers need help to work faster and more efficiently to match up to the efficient ally. There is no embarrassment to seeking help, human, mechanical or with cooking aids. The fridge becomes the partner in this defining shift. Freshly grated coconut kept in the fridge makes way to coconut “boora”. This does away with the chore of buying, breaking, grating, to reconstituting and using as needed.
Where fresh food was kept in the fridge to keep from spoiling, packaged goods are also kept “cool” (read “fresh”) in the fridge. Tomato puree, ginger garlic paste, bhuna masala, dry masalas sit alongside essence, custard, baking powder in the fridge. Dry fruit like cashews and almonds are in the freezer besides cold cuts, an extra liter of milk, frozen peas, corn and sausages. An extra cooked vegetable from the morning’s cooking for the evening is the savior for many a working women. Unlike her counterpart in the west, the woman in India was not ready to cook beyond a day part. This meant lunch cooking for lunch time and freshly cooked dinner, often a heavy snack. This is changing to an extra vegetable cooked in the morning, which helps Mom catch up on the serial and take a look at Junior’s homework.
Shifting tastes: Beverages in the fridge go up in summer and food makes way for liquids and fresh mangoes. Changing habits, openness to stock and serve up shows up. Storing an occasional bottle of Pepsi or Coke is uncommon, instead tetrapacks of branded “healthy” Amul lassi and chaas, juices, and traditional drinks like aam pana and kokum sherbet are popular. Tonic water jostles with beer, bottles of Breezers and wine showing a visible declaration of what’s allowed in the home and in the fridge. Women getting comfortable with alcohol is best seen when the fridge gets a permit to stock up. While exploring with liquor is the new, ordering ice cream over when guests arrive was not new. What was once a luxury to be served on special occasions is now commonplace and self-indulgence and living it up when it comes to food and drink is the norm. The consumer wants to feel the taste buds titillated. The fridge has become a global desi. The global face is evident in sections for pasta sauce, macaroni, Dijon English mustard, dill pickles, olives, mayonnaise, soya sauce and vinegar. The desi is evident with tamarind puree in the steel katori, boiled milk container, left over sabzi and dal, chutneys, pickles.
Unchangeables: Ramaben’s 7 year old 165 liter Whirpool has an oversize steel vessel filled to the brim with cream. This may be an unchangeable for several middle class Indian homes where women are homemakers. It means churning set cream to make butter milk, homemade butter and ghee. The freezer is empty and is used as an extension of the fridge when its over full. There are no signs of impulse purchase or even convenience. There are six water bottles and two bottles of rose syrup for sherbet and ketchup. There are some cut and fresh vegetables, some dry masalas and it’s a prudent, frugal homemaker, who sews falls and does beading on sarees. She has recently gotten herself a second hand semi-automatic machine and it sits besides the fridge in the 1 room and bathroom home on the 7th floor one a one-time chawl.
What next? Why do we use round utensils inside rectangular spaces. Why does the fridge door held open longer than it needs to be open causes restlessness and panic? New design and feature rich refrigerators allow tremendous customization for the buyer. There is transition from single door to double and even triple door. There are refrigerators that open like a cupboard in the pantry. Fridges in vegetarian homes don’t need the eggs tray. Why can’t there be a veg and non veg section in the fridge, a small freezer-in-freezer to stock fish, meat, chicken and cold cuts? Why does one have to bend to pick up vegetables or sit on ones haunches? Why can’t fridges be custom built – with drawers that can get pulled out instead of open racks? There is a lot that has been delivered against customers’ needs. Why should any space in the fridge or in the door be wasted? Why not have adjustable side racks that can be custom built. And would male industrial designers even think of a small section for color cosmetics like lipsticks and nail polish that women like to keep in the fridge? Not one fridge on the inside looks like another, yet the hardware is largely the same – rigid and unrelenting. Can we buy the bare bones of the outer, not unlike buying an apartment and custom-fit the inside exactly as one needs. The fridge is a reflection of what one buys and eats and fridge watching holds the key to untold secrets of the hearth.