Maid in India

Now that we as a nation seem to have arrived as an international space power, can we ask our scientists to put their heads together and come up with packets and pouches that can be opened by actual people without the need for home laser canons?

Why I say this is because every day, after lunch, I spend 10 to 15 minutes trying to tear open the betel nut packet, but mostly my efforts are thwarted as the pouch’s edges seem sealed with reinforced concrete. No amount of yanking can make them come apart. And I generally end up ungainly gnawing the packet like some deranged beaver.

When science can put people in rarefied space, when technology has produced 3-D printers that can actually spew out, well, 3-D printers, why on earth are we still stuck with every-day household packaging that drives us nuts while just trying to open them?

But, mercifully, we have at least made some progress from the times when the pharma people used to put syrups and tonics in bottles that could be opened only with sharp knives after you performed some emergency operation with the precision of a brain surgeon on the bottle caps.

The thing was, you had to saw off a portion of the cap’s sides to unscrew it. But this was never a simple and straightforward exercise, and many a dad — being the man of the house this was always his job, and so was the task of dealing with leaky tap (he attended to it by calling the plumber) — had suffered bruising injuries on his arms and fingers when trying to put knife on the unyielding bottle cap.

But this unwieldy system of knifing bottle caps was actually preferable to the one that the pharma industry moved next to: Bottles that came with helpful instructions to open. Because the instruction usually was:

To open, unscrew this direction: <—>.

If this were a puzzle question in JEE, no student would ever have made it to the IITs. If it were now, it would be the cue for the meme: bowling-a or fielding-a?

No wonder many people around that time began to seek alternative medicine. They may have been unproven science-wise, but alternative medicine at least gave you pills that came in containers that you could open normally (rim shot).

And then there was the box that chewable calcium tablets were sold in. The box had an extremely narrow neck and the slit-space available was — it was a design marvel — smaller than the size of individual calcium tablets inside it.  How could anyone get the tablets out of it? Or, more importantly, how could they have put them inside it in the first place? A Mensa question of those times was: How do you get a 3-inch long tablet out of a 2-inch opening in a calcium tablet box? (Mensa answer: You picked a 750-gram weighing stone and broke the bottom of the box and removed all the tablets in one go).

But still, the most impregnable fort, the veritable Alcatraz of containers, the Manuel Neur of receptacles as it was impossible to get past it, will have to be: the Milkmaid tin.

These days, Milkmaid comes in cylindrical metal boxes that have a helpful handle on its top to tear open the tin cover. This is patently against the company’s core policy, which at one point certainly was to never allow even one consumer to taste Milkmaid.

Back then in the 80s, Milkmaid was available in a sealed metal container thick and tough enough to withstand surgical nuclear attacks.

To open the tin cover you had to undertake an elaborate metallurgical engineering project as no cutters were available at the consumer level then. So it was not rare to find unopened (unopenable) Milkmaid cans lying forlornly in our refrigerators for decades together. From time to time, we used to take it out and look at it wistfully, like it was some kind of family heirloom. Occasionally we would take a stab at opening it by the extremely scientific method of dropping it on a hard stony floor. Nothing would happen. No, the stony floor would be dented.

It would not surprise me if I ever came to know that they never manufactured anything at all at Milkmaid, and anyone who managed to prise open the can merely found a note at the bottom that read: ‘Ha. Ha. Ha. Fooled you, nah?’

But of course, we as consumers do know of the opposite situation, where we are able to open a packet easily and find nothing much except many air molecules in it.

This clearly Lays out our problem.