Sunday, April 26, 2009

Box Collection!

In olden days, most of the products came to the consumer from the manufacturer either in wooden containers or tin boxes or tin cans. Plastic was not an item in the dictionary before the 1950s, though celluloid had been discovered in the late 19th century. Those were not "use and throw days" for sure. Any container that reached the consumer found a further use after the intended product reached him. So the container stayed along in shelves. In the kitchen, there was the familiar sight of lined up tin cans of Ovaltine, Threptin or Bournvita or any such suitable can with durable air-tight lids to keep the daily needed sugar, dhals, coffee powder, etc. Crystal salt could not be stored in them but in a porcelain jar. Tin cans were safer than glass in terms of handling in the kitchen. The sound of closing back the tin lids by tapping was unique! Opening them required a sharp finger nail or a handle of a spoon.

The tin cans never rusted because they were handled everyday. I have none to show because, see-through PET containers have long replaced them and revolutionized kitchen storage.

Many items/products were sold/presented by the manufacturer in attractive boxes/containers. We have with us at home some such. Some are in poor condition due to neglect and non-usage (of course, the attic!) while some got stored in cleaner surroundings and in occasional use. Also remember, that was a cleaner atmosphere in the olden days with less garbage/waste production from homes - deadly plastic now forms a major share in pollution!

I'm not a collector, but showing just a collection - rather 'accumulation'! Random order with short descriptions are given. Their period of arrival mentioned are only guesstimates. I've added a caption wherever necessary in the pictures themselves.

Click on them to view larger images.


Read the cap of Welcome Chemical Works - Over 270 highest awards. Period not known.

4 ounces of Soluble Cocoa from Holland.

Etonia Handkerchiefs perhaps of the 20s.
Confectionery boxes which were mostly gifts for our birthdays - 60s, 70s.

Sandal Soap - must be from 30s.

Pears Soap Box of the 50s guess, still glittering - was my aunt's favourite.

Himalaya Bouquet Toilet Powder for 'natural loveliness'! 1950s.

1920s' needle cases. Observe the design of the one on the extreme left. Centre case has a hole to take out a needle.

Tiny coloured leads for pencils were kept in this -30s.

No one in the family was a smoker. I wonder how this Cigar box from Spencer's came and stayed since probably 30s.
Parle Sweets - 40s or 50s.

"Afternoon Tea" from Britannia Biscuit Co. Ltd. They already had factories in 3 cities! This must be from 1920s or thereabouts.

This is a 1960s box gifted by my maternal uncle. Beautiful pictures on it.

1950s again... Lipton Tea had this offer for a period of time. Lovely "Jewel Casket" they called it.

We hated the contents of this as children in the 60s. De-worming tablets!

Another confectionery box from the 60s in my guess.

This may abe of the 40s in my estimate going by the caption of the picture there on this Octagonal Morton's Box.

My grandfather was a sportsman who also played Tennis and Golf. Those two above are two cans that held 3 golf balls each. The left one is a cardboard box and the other is of aluminium from the reputed Dunlop. This should be of the 50s. The one below is a can of tennis balls from Dunlop again, probably of the 40s.



My grandfather had owned a car for some time but sold off because he found it difficult to maintain it. 1940s or thereabouts. The car left him but the empty cans of motor oil and gear oil have stayed back. In fact, the white and red can had half a can of oil!! Smell of the oil was very very odd. Unbearable. I tried to use it for my kerosene lamps by mixing part of it but it never succeeded. This old oil never seemed to burn properly - probably it loses combustibility on storage. The flame never burned satisfactorily while giving that odd smell on burning.

The above yellow can from Shell has been reshaped by a smithy.

Nobody smoked in the family. Yet, this lovely box of State Express 555 now holds my watch-repairing screw drivers.

Viceroy Cigarettes again.

This is my favourite, Threptin biscuit box of plastic that held four Compact Discs -- biscuit discs!


Spring Dumb-bell box. Print is all but little gone. We can read "Edward VII", "Bell"... and can see a part of the 'Sandow's hand'. Belonged to my great grandfather and when 19th century turned into 20th.

Shalimar Biscuits ... enriched with vitamins, butter crisper says the bottom of the box that also held another pair of dumb-bells. This is in very bad shape.

This is the earlier original box now with its real content.


Mellin's Food Biscuit box.


Cardboard box of Mysore Banians, manufactured by the renown K.R.Mills.  Note the price of one banian - one rupee and sixtyfive paise.  This must be from the 1960s.


This is a Panama Cigarette box, probably gifted by the company with some packs as a special limited offer. Lovely plastic. 

Some are rusty and are on the way out, finally. It is very difficult to dispose off junk. The moment the hand picks an item up, the mind drags it back -suddenly it looks attractive!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Winners’ plight, trophies’ fate


My grandfather's High Jump medal, Presidency College, Madras, 1921, as thick as a two-rupee coin

Who would not like to be a winner, esp. in sport and other competitions? Of course, parents push kids to ‘win’. The ‘problem’ comes after that, to winners. The prize distribution ceremony! Winners are handed over objects that are called ‘trophies’ or mementos. Of course, the occasion is absolutely thrilling.
I’m not talking about those ‘objects’ we see on television which is usually national or international events – they are of a class of its own. I want to share what I have seen from personal experience at other lower levels of sport and some other competitions. But first let me take you back to a golden era. Good things first!

Are such trophies given these days?
My grandfather was a ‘winner’ in various sports. He was a fine all-round sportsman in his days in the early part of the last century. Athletics, Hockey, Cricket, Football, Bridge, Billiards, Golf and Tennis brought him laurels, esp. the last one for which he was more renowned, needless to say, in his profession also, as a lawyer. He played the sport as it should be and used to mention some incidents proudly. One of them was ‘keep Subba Rao away if you want to win’! He was such a sure-shot winner esp. in Athletics in his college days. Some beautiful medals he was awarded are shown here. As beautiful as they are made and presented with full information like name, year, event and occasion, neatly engraved they became ‘proud possessions’ for the third generation as well!
One of his Tennis cups.
He had great pride in his achievements and was very fond of saying or showing “there are seventy cups” (that matched a riddle ‘seven tea cups’) that he won during his active playing days spanning about 60 years. These are lovely trophies made with expert craftsmanship which he preserved in a special showcase. Engraved details add to the glory and value. They are show-pieces that have never lost their sheen after decades, though the winner of them is no more for long. They require no polishing!

This is a medal that was awarded to my granduncle - I had never seen him. Look at that engraving. I learned that he too was a talented sportsman.
In high contrast, objects presented nowadays are mere junk, more like fast food. They are of cheap metal or breakable plastic in weird shapes that occupy a lot of shelf space. They are kept glimmering on the stage at the time of presentation (to please the concerned). In less than a year, quite expectedly, they dull beyond recognition! Some of them are actual potent weapons that can give a cut as if from a blade. So what do you do then? We have to be merciless.
Which one of these 'weapons' to keep? That is not a showcase you see here!
Some perpetual winners have a real problem in storing these gaudy trophies [of course there are odd and lucky exceptions]. They reach a stage when shelf space and much later suitcase space becomes a premium. Cricket brought me some such and I know how hard it is to ‘maintain them’ after reaching a stage where I’m asking myself “Which one to keep and which one not to keep out on show”. Think of disposing? Where and how to dispose? Trophies are not recyclable as well! It is an unsportsmanlike idea, a painful dilemma. But such winners have to draw a line and get moving. Sportsmen have to be practical, you see! The pleasure and memories of winning remain long if not the trophy. I tried to read the engraving (poorly done) on a certain trophy. I was lost!

Look at the two of them on the right.
My young musician-relative has the same problem, on a much grander scale. A real pain in the neck for her mother!

Sportsmen ought not to sell their prizes unless it is for an emergency. We have heard of pathetic stray cases of old sportsmen selling their medals to survive poverty!

Nowadays, not many people go up the showcases in houses they visit and inquire about a displayed item! So disheartening! Because the TV is a horrid distraction! Or is it the general commercial mindset that has set in? Trophies are not usually the priority for others besides the few interested. Often, showcases become a dumping place for such things that were won with so much pain and pleasure!
I have begun to wonder when the organizers of events will realize the importance of handing over a ‘useful item’ for the winners as a memento, instead of such cheap showy things called ‘trophies’ on which they spend so much! Presenting trophies of the quality I told about my grandfather’s time is simply unthinkable today. They always find space in the showcase. None manufacture such quality.

"All that glitters is not gold." But old!
People seem to have no fancy for “trophies” in recent times and in that background, why not the organizers of various events think of awarding the winners with other useful things for mementos for the same cost? After all, don’t we curiously inquire these days “how much does it cost?” even after winning? Let’s hope some horse sense shows up on the horizon.


Friday, April 3, 2009

The carrierwalla

[Image from the Net]



Before seventies or sixties, workingwomen were as sparse as hotels. It was the accepted and safe practice to consume only home-prepared food, cooked with love and affection by the family women. Their counterparts of today are called “housewives” - sounds like ‘houseflies’, or with some polish, “homemakers”.


Workingmen preferred warm home food. They were used to fresh food from their childhood days – from ovens to plates to palates! Nowadays, they are spoilt by fast food, junk food and cold food which have made them more flexible and adaptable! Their palates can take anything.


Let me remember the carrierwallas who have helped us bring fresh food, sometimes still steaming, to our workplaces. “Carrier-wallas” would pick up the lunchboxes from homes and deliver them to the desk of the man at his work place and took back the empty box and deposited back home before evening. In our city then, workplaces would be close enough from homes and one could reach in less than half an hour of cycling. It was a small city.


In the early 60s, both my uncle and father were working in the same campus and so my grandmother would pack and send two sets of lunchboxes in two bags. There was a carrierwalla who was appointed for this job and he served us for many years. He would come to our house around noon on his bicycle after collecting lunch boxes from other customers [usually working in the same place] esp. in the vicinity. I do not remember his name but almost every day my grandmother used to give him a glass of lemon juice or buttermilk esp. on hot summer days. He would gleefully accept it, remove slippers outside, enter the verandah, remove his cap and drink without laying his lips on the glass – a hygienic practice. There were two heavy-duty bags made to order so that it could take the load and shape of the round base of the 3-tier lunchbox and long loops that was enough to hang on the bicycle handle bar. My uncle died in 1967 and this man continued for some time before my father chose to come home for lunch as it was an hour break and just a 10-minute bicycle ride.


Much later when I joined work, after my father’s death, there was one who brought my lunch box to my workplace. He was an elderly man. He served for many years before situations gave way to another man who served until I bought a scooter which is taking me home at lunch time since then. That terminated the services of the carrierwalla to me. It has been about two decades since that happened and I still see the same carrierwalla doing the same tough routine for others who need the services.


Taking 15-20 lunchboxes with food in it on the bicycle is no easy job. It requires stamina and strong legs to pedal the bicycle with all the weight on the handle and behind the saddle. He would push the vehicle in upward gradients, which is a pathetic sight. His hard work would earn him just enough money to sustain himself and his family. The other elderly man I told about was delivering the box to his childhood classmate who was in an important position in the office. Speak about destinies.


I’ll not elaborate on the much renown “Dabbawallas of Mumbai” which is an organized system of carrying lunch boxes from home to work desk and back. It is amazing how they use codes to mark the destinations! Take a look at their website here: http://www.mydabbawala.com/general/aboutdabbawala.htm Wikipedia has this to inform us: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dabbawala