City City Bang Bang, Columns

Remembering the Mixie

If the story of technology were to be written, chances are the mixer-grinder might at best occupy a grudging footnote, but to a certain set of people at a certain point in time, it brought home with force all that was powerful about machines. Perhaps no other machine captured the idea of modernity quite as dramatically as did the mixie- that magic deliverer of blending, mixing and grinding (dry and wet).

Modelled on the western blender and developed by Sumeet, the brand that became synonymous with the category, the mixie was a robustly Indian idea in that it was equipped to handle a complex and diverse set of tasks that Indian cooking required. Making its appearance in Indian homes beginning with the seventies, the mixie revolutionised the idea of household labour, and delivered to the housewife a machine that finally added some value in the kitchen. For otherwise, the machine belonged to the world of masculine utility; saving feminine labour hadn’t really been a priority. To be sure, there were other important kitchen appliances- certainly the replacement of the chulha first with the stove (which was still quite labour intensive) and then with the gas stove were important steps, but the mixer-grinder was the first real gadget that made its way into the kitchen that visibly operated as a housewife’s helpmate.

It was easy to see why the mixie had such an impact. The work it replaced represented the idea of labour in all its grinding hardness. Elbow weighed on stone in a cycle of crushing repetition, in order to grind out a mix of condiments that served as nothing more than a base for the dishes that needed cooking. Mixing and grinding involved reducing things to pulp or dust and infusing one ingredient into another till they seemed to become one on the strength of human effort alone. The chakki-peesing dialogue from Dharmendra’s memorable on-top-of-the-water-tank soliloquy in Sholay, is testimony to the association of mixing and grinding with hard labour. The picture of a housewife slaving away in the kitchen, pausing occasionally to wipe sweat from her brow, engaged in repetitive work that gave her no rewards has a lot to do with this task. Unlike other aspects of cooking that involved some creativity and appreciation, toiling away at the mortar and pestle was essentially labour at its most negative.

Not only did the mixie work, but it made modernity look ridiculously good. It wolfed down work in a blur of whir. The laborious linearity of work became the effortless circularity of intention, even whim. It came with attachments that tackled specific tasks, but what was common to all of them was the ease, both in terms of effort and time that it delivered. What has hitherto a tedious, back-breaking endeavour was now accomplished in a matter of seconds.

The mixie could not be run for more than a few moments; that was all it needed to convert anything into the desired state of paste, pulp or juice. A turn of the knob and solid became mush. The ease with which it did what it did was almost unfair- it made the earlier effort seem absurd by underlining the futility of human labour. Whatever the wisdom of the past might have been, the mixie made the present look very good in comparison.

But the mixie was much more than a mere labour saving device. By whisking a liquid into an orgy of froth, it bestowed creamy richness on the mundane. The distance between milk and milk shake was the distance between the functional and the indulgent, the sufficient and the luxuriant, the wholesome bluster of a fan and the effortless chill of the air-conditioner. Products of a utilitarian world like milk and bananas, both, could become transformed into an exotic confection. Funnelled through a mixie, one could make omelette of air, as eggs got whipped into a frenzy of froth. One could convert coffee and ice cubes into a frothy indulgence. The mixie made the ordinary exotic; everything began speaking with an English accent. The pink milk shake plump with synthetic strawberry sweetness became an exciting new addition to the vocabulary of household goodies, possible to manufacture at a press of a button.

The mechanism of a mixie was to add speed beyond human ability to food, thereby finding within it an order of existence that wasn’t always possible to reach. By rotating things around at high speed, it broke things free of themselves and ready to immerse themselves into other such liberated ingredients till they achieved unity of some kind, bound together in molecular solidarity. At its most functional, it used this mode of compression merely to save time but in the upper reaches of its ability, lay possibilities of dramatic transformation from within, as a streamlined new self emerged after the churn, having shed some of the burdens of its origins.

The purists lament the loss of an essence, in food as mechanical force overwhelms human persistence. Ingredients bullied into paste do not retain the same flavours they do when they are gently cajoled to unite, they argue. The freshness is lost, the aroma compromised, the true meaning of food gets obscured by a simulated enactment of its appearance. There is truth in this, but for millions of housewife, whose view of their toils in the kitchen might veer towards the more prosaic, this was an acceptable compromise, a necessary one even, as the grip of household chores gradually loosened its hold on their lives.The idea that a mere touch of a button could do so much with such flair might seem commonplace today, but there was a time when the mixie made technology look like magic.