Saturday, February 07, 2015

Did we have sewing machines?

This is the catchy slogan of an advertisement for US Air Force.
Obviously our people who want to promote Hinduism (it is a different matter that the religion needs no help in this regard) adopted the military slogan. Given that we are leaning State-side in all matters, this is just as well.
Now, that is as good a reason as any for the outpouring of sentiments of what Hindus had done earlier. These promoters reached out to stars, literally, claiming interplanetary travel. They also claimed organ transplants, gene/stem-cell therapy, quantum uncertainty, 3D-Printing, Laser, particle accelerators, designer drugs, Maglev trains, super computers, super conductivity, super fluidity … (allow me some hyperbole, please).
I am not here to rain on this parade. But, do allow me to ask a few questions, at a much lower, infra-dig level.
Let us start with computers. Did we have them? The answer would definitely be “YES!” Don’t raise your eye brows. Not yet.
Did you know there was a time when computers were classified as female? Yes, it is true.  Before the time of electronic computers, “computer” was a job description rather than a machine. It referred to those who did computing, and were predominantly women, because, as you guessed it, they could be paid less!
Take the above back many centuries and apply the same logic. Obviously Indian women went to the market, bought a slew of things from one or many vendors and paid them in gold coins or whatever was the currency then prevailing. They obviously were “computing” and hence, were computers. Sure enough, then, we had computers.
Now apply the same logic to various other so-called “modern conveniences”, like vacuum cleaners, grinding machines, cloth ironing machines, coffee makers, dough kneaders, and of course, sewing machines. Yes, we had all of these and they were pretty much exclusively women.
My title asked a question. And, I have reached the end after answering in the affirmative.
I did not take inspiration from the US Air Force in answering the question. Indeed, I went in the opposite direction, reached down low and got the answer. Quite ingenious of me, wouldn’t you say?
Raghuram Ekambaram

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