Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Best before….

I don’t know what it is that men look for in labels. Have you ever read the fine print on a tub of cheese spread? Or a slab of butter? I haven’t. That’s because I buy things as I need them and usually consume them before they threaten to expire. Unlike the significant other, who buys things believing that we are going to be struck by a tsunami and have to stock up for a few months, at the very least.

So when I find him microscopically examining a cheese spread or a jar of gherkins, and preparing to reject it on grounds of “It is too close to the expiry date,” my antennae rise. I feel like saying, “Expiry date doesn’t mean you will expire if you eat it.” He grins, and prepares to light a cigarette. (I wonder if they have expiry dates on those)

One item that tops the ‘rejected on grounds of expiry’ list is bread. Since most loaves say “Best before three days” they somehow they never make it past his expiry muster.

I am sure one of the things he misses about being single is being able to buy all the things he didn’t need and feel happy. Just in case he woke up one morning and felt like eating a dal-mot sandwich topped with cheeslings (don’t ask me where he acquired a taste for that).

Moving to my dad and his label fetish. For the longest time, I thought my dad was secretly doing a research project on label technology. Right from my Ovaltine and Incremin days, I would watch him studying labels of every conceivable packaged product (toothbrushes, milk, oil, toiletries and more such). I would wonder what he was looking for. One day, he told me how a toothbrush cost just x paise to make and that Hindustan Lever was charging us y rupees, so we are being fleeced.

“But,” I would tell him, in my best wisdom-voice, “We don’t know how to make toothbrushes, so we have to buy it from them, don’t we? We really don’t have a choice…”

He would do the same thing for savouries, pickles, confectionery… almost everything we engaged with on a daily basis would be computed for its perceived and actual value.

One day, he had a brainwave while examining a packet of packaged milk. Producing a sheet of complex calculations, he claimed the ROI on a buffalo was just six months. And that a farmer friend of his was willing to sell him one for Rs 3000, and how that would give us x litres of milk everyday which we could sell at y price (even after diluting) and how, in six months, we could be rich.

The said buffalo sadly eloped and we never got rich.

But I was immensely relieved that I wouldn’t be stuck with “milkman’s daughter” as a label for the rest of my life.

Ironical that a few years later, I joined the world of advertising, trying to sell people things they didn’t need. My dad on the other hand began looking at labels even more fixatedly. He still does. And so does the husband.

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