Spotlight: DIY culture

It was really necessity that drove Somu Padmanabhan into the world of “do-it-yourself” or DIY. The 36-year-old IT professional from Chennai had bought himself a house and was looking to do it up. His relentless search for a centre table took him to a furnishing store where he spotted one that he fell in love with. But the only problem was that it was 10 inches too long. “The one that I found was 2 ft in width and 3ft 10 inches long,”says Somu. “I asked the shop people if they could make a centre table according to my size specifications, but they weren’t ready.” Somu stood there for a bit examining the table and figured that it was just a plank of wood that rested on four short legs. “It was the simplest make I had ever seen,” he says. “And I don’t know from where it struck me that I should try making it myself.” With absolutely no background in woodworking and having not even touched a drilling machine till then, Somu went around looking for a plywood supplier and tools. In no time, his centre table was ready and Somu was hooked to woodworking. The internet came to his rescue, so did some books he hoarded about DIY. Now Somu runs a blog called Woodooz.com where he puts up all his creations, that range from photoframes to lampshades and utility boxes.

For Indranil Banerjee, a political journalist from Delhi, it was curiosity on seeing woodworks that made him think he should try his hand at it. On his many trips abroad, he also saw that in the West, the DIY culture was prominent. “Everyone there has a tool box and they have raw materials in their garages,” says 54-year-old Indranil, who runs a blog called Indian DIY. “If something in the house needs repair, they just pick up their tools and get it fixed. It is so ingrained into to their DNA that it is a lifestyle choice there.” Although it hasn’t become as common as in the west, a few like Indranil and Somu are going the DIY way in India, too. And it is not just a hobby for most them, it has become a way of living now. “It brings about an attitude shift,” says Sudhakar Prabhu, of Bangalore, who is a graphic designer with an industrial engineering background. He got fascinated by woodworks while working with carpenters and architects and has been making his own works for five years now.

Sudhakar says that the IT boom is in a way responsible for the DIY culture in India. “A lot of youngsters went abroad then and saw that the way of life in the west is totally different,” says Sudhakar. “We, in India, look down upon jobs like that of a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician. We think it is somebody else’s job. That attitude has changed.” According to him, one of the benefits of the DIY lifestyle is that people start respecting these jobs once they start doing it themselves. “Something like woodworking is more than just a hobby,” he says. “It teaches you many life lessons. Once you start buying material, you become aware of the cost factor and wastage. You also have to take up the responsibility for the outcome of whatever you engage in. All these learnings can be adapted to different aspects of your life, too.”

Indranil at work Image courtesy: Indian DIY
Indranil at work
Image courtesy: Indian DIY

All of them agree that when you rely on a professional for your work to be done, the quality and awareness of the materials used would be higher than if you were to do it on your own. “But DIY is an experience in itself,” says Somu. “It has a lot of intangible outputs. For instance, the joy of being able to instantly put up a frame on picture painted by your wife is something else. When people come home, they almost always are surprised when I say that I have made these stuff. They congratulate me and youngsters come and talk to me about it, it feels good.”

However, the DIY movement in India has not picked up pace now. Indranil points out that cost could be a major deterrant. “A good tool set will cost you around Rs 4,000,” says Indranil, who makes bookshelves, boxes, storage cabinets and kitchen shutters. “For an average Indian, isn’t that too much money to spend on a ‘hobby’?” However, Somu offers a solution. “If you are just starting out, then you should be smart enough to know what tools are needed for a particular project and whether you know how to use them,” he says. “In that case, you will not have to buy an entire tool set, but just one or two of those which are needed.” His biggest investment in tools till date is a driller which cost him Rs 800.

Another dampener, says Somu, is the attitude of the hardware shop owners towards the common man. “They think we do not know the specifics and do not bother to help us,” he says. “I took so long to make these guys understand that I meant business. A lot of women tell me that the shopkeepers at hardware stores do not pay any attention to them and are rude to them. This make them feel unwelcome and prevent them from taking DIY up.” This could lead to them depending on someone else to get their raw materials, which in itself goes against the basic idea of DIY, which is to be independent and be able to do things on your own.

Somu with his projects Image courtesy: Woodooz.com
Somu with his projects
Image courtesy: Woodooz.com

In terms of cost, Sudhakar says that DIY would definitely work out cheaper than hiring a professional. “That is because you are eliminating a huge chunk called the labour cost,” he says. “To hire a carpenter, apart from the money spent on tools and materials, you will hve to pay him Rs 1000 a day at least as labour cost.” The only trade-off is the time you spend. “From work-life balance, it is now soon changing to work-life-hobby or DIY balance,” says Somu.

Looking at the response to their blogs and Facebook pages, Indranil and Somu say that the interest is growing, mostly among youngsters and women. “Now people are in a stage of just admiring the works done by others and understanding that it can be done by them, too,” says Somu. “But the number of people who are actually taking it up and getting their hands dirty is limited, but growing.” For all those who think that we are trying to inculcate a western concept of lifestyle, here is Sudhakar’s argument: “The funny things is that if you look at your grandfather’s generation, you will find that DIY has its roots there. My grandfather used to repair most things in the house, paint the compound wall, open up transistors and radios, hang pictures and all. So it is not like an entirely new thing in India.” Our parents’ generation got too busy with their careers and ours is trying to take a break from our jobs, he says. “DIY is thus a perfect choice as it keeps you engaged and gives you a sense of being useful and independent.”

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