On Human Ingenuity

by Ashish

I was just thinking the other day – some days, it’s all I end up doing – about the amazing ingenuity of the human mind. Not the big ticket stuff, like dispatching a crate of old scientific equipment all the way to Mars. I’m thinking about the way the human mind works to make life simpler for itself.

Consider the remote control, for example. What a brilliant invention. No, I mean, what a brilliant invention. It’s the weekend, you’ve earned your period of comatose-giri, and there you are, in front of the telly with a bottle of something chilled, and a bowl of something cholesterolly in front of you. This pretty picture isn’t complete unless you see yourself mindlessly flipping through every channel that your TV has. Which, you see, is only possible because you have a contraption in your hand that enables the flipping. And which is why the TV remote is a thing of complete, utter brilliance.

Unfortunately, the human race has never figured out how to stop when the going is good. The average human being uses no more than three buttons on a remote control, four at most. The channel up/down button, the mute button and the power button. The volume button might come into it every now and then, but that’s it. But remotes nowadays look like they belong on a panel in Sriharikota. There are (I counted just now) fifty three buttons on my TV remote, for example, and I’ll freely admit that I have never used 48 of them. There is, for example, a button called subcode – I just noticed it. Only goes to show what I was talking about earlier. We just don’t know when to stop.

But enough of the bellyaching. What I really wanted to talk about today was those specific cases when the human mind does get it right – and absolutely-perfectly-right, not remote-control-right.

Consider, for example, the petrol cap on scooters in India. My chariot of choice these days is a Honda Activa, and while a perfectly good vehicle in all other respects, it has a bit of a daft design flaw. Filling petrol into the thing involves getting off the bike, lifting up the seat cover, unscrewing the lid off the tank, and then filling the petrol. A new bike, manufactured by TVS, I think, shoots this peskly little inconvenience in the ‘nads by putting the lid behind the seat, not underneath it. See? Life made simpler.

Or consider those keys that come with a button on the side. If you press the button, a pale yellow light manifests itself towards the base of the grip on the key, illuminating an area of perhaps a square centimetre, if that. Pretty daft and wussy, you think to yourself the first time you see it. But then time comes, as it must in every man’s life, when you stand outside the door to your abode at two thirty in the morning, in pitch black darkness, with a miniature Indian ocean sloshing about in your tummy. Standing is a challenge just now, forget the insurmountable problem of summoning up enough hand-eye coordination to put a very wobbly key into an impossibly tiny keyhole. Accidentally pressing on that button just then, and seeing just that part of the door light up long enough for you to gain entry is one of the sweetest feelings man can experience. Again, life made simpler.

But of all (and there are many) these wondrous inventions, one stands out more than any other. One invention, the Sachin Tendulkar of its category, is in the sliced bread league of brilliant ideas. Indian men, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from BJP supporters to Congress acolytes –are all agreed upon one thing – the peel-off cap on the new Kingfisher beer bottles are The Best Thing, Like, Ever. For years and years, my keychain used to be a bottle opener. For one never knew when an occasion would present itself, and there is (trust me on this) nothing more frustrating than having a bottle of beer but no opener.

Which is why, in this writer’s humble opinion, the peel-off cap is, like I said, The Best Thing, Like, Ever. Whoever came up with that invention only needs to tap me on the shoulder and introduce himself.  You, sir, can peel off as many caps as you like on that evening.