From the same species that built airplanes comes the deathtrap that is 'packaging'

Have you ever managed to open a tin can without losing your temper, spouse or a good amount of blood?

I’ve always been filled with admiration whenever I go on board a plane. As you approach the jet, you wonder how the heck something so large can actually get off the ground. Of course, it does, and the flight is usually far smoother than the ride to the airport (and safer too). Plus, you're usually fed and watered well on flights. There you are, cruising at 30,000 feet at nearly 600 miles an hour – comfortable and cool...

That's, of course, till they serve you tea or coffee. There...on the tiny plastic tray it sits, gleaming blue: the sealed little sachet of powdered milk for your hot beverage. If we developed a technology to make an enormous metal contraption fly, then surely…

You pick up the sachet and give the top an experimental twist with your thumbs. Nothing. Your turn it upside down and try again. Same result. The tea, poured and waiting, is rapidly getting cold. So you add more torque this time around. The sachet promptly explodes, covering you and your co-passenger in a cloud of sweet, white, sticky milk powder.

Thankfully, he isn't upset. But smiles sheepishly at you – he’s tried to open the sachet of tomato sauce and is looking like he’s taken part in a slasher movie.

Deathtraps come in various sizes too. Image credit:

Deathtraps come in various sizes too. Image credit:

Again, we have the technology to make jets down, but not to make small packets that you can open in a civilized fashion? Of course not. This is deliberate! It’s just a small part of our killjoy nature manifesting itself. Anything that can give you the slightest modicum of enjoyment or pleasure or happiness or sweetness and light – is sinful. Period.

So why ever not make the procedure of attaining that as frustrating as possible?

Look at tin cans. Have you ever managed to open a can of sardines without losing your temper, a spouse, a good amount of blood (if not a couple of fingers) and splashing oil and brine and sardines all over the kitchen when you finally manage to wrench the can open?

"Ah," you might say, "but there are these fantastic heavy-duty can openers you can own now...You know, the ones that you can slot in and twist the butterfly thingy alongside so it slides around the top of the tin can, cutting it open as it goes around like a knife in hot butter?" Sure! I was given just such an industrial-strength can-opener from the US and what next? It opened the first so sweetly you wouldn't believe. And then? It slotted in just fine (or so I thought), and when I twisted it, all I got was wheelspin. The teeth had blunted and refused to pierce the tin. (Was it tin or bulletproof metal, now?)

The only thing that worked was the ancient lever-type can opener that you jab or hammer in and manoeuvre around the top of the tin inch-by-inch.

Of course it looks easy. Its meant to look easy.

Of course it looks easy. It's meant to look easy.

Ah, you may have an open can now, but that’s not the happily-ever-after of the story, is it? Now you must don industrial-strength leather gloves and gingerly remove the top of the can – its edges sharp enough to amputate a thigh or two. The edges of the can are, of course, equally dangerous – jagged and merciless as a shark’s mouth.

Without the gloves, you’ll be cut to the bone money back guaranteed! Now go and enjoy your sardines on toast if you can!

With local (Indian made foreign) liquor bottles, well what the hell can you expect? The collar sealing the bottle top either will happily revolve as you twirl it around, or simply refuse to separate. Take a knife to slice through the notches on it and you can be sure that at some point during the procedure it will slip, go berserk, and slash your hand into two.

Now you really are in need of a drink and haven’t still opened the damn bottle! Basically, the message being sent to you is clear: how dare you try to enjoy a drink? You should be ashamed! This is India. To drive the point home: imported liquor bottles open sweetly and serenely – pre-cut grooves on the collars ensure that you can open the bottle in seconds without bleeding half to death...only, you must look for the grooves and not try a ham-fisted brutal manoeuvre as you would for the local bottle of hooch!

Of course, you could argue that liquor bottles are made tough to open so that bootleggers find it difficult to break the seals, drink up the stuff and replace it with petrol, (this may prove counter-productive considering the price of petrol), or paint thinner, which can blind you or make your kidneys disintegrate. Be warned: those in this line of work know exactly how to open, re-seal (and often, re-label) the bottles perfectly.

Sealed for your protection. Image credit:

Sealed for your protection. Image credit:

Medicine bottles will, as a rule, give you – or your two-year-old – no trouble at all and open cleanly with a single twist. So you could (as so many college kids are doing) console yourself with codeine-infused cough syrups instead of rum.

But now look at toys – and those essentials of life: SD cards! Ah, they’re in a class by themselves!

Toys are hermetically sealed in gorilla-proof plastic casings which will challenge even the most destructive two-year-old, and which are probably genuinely bulletproof. (You can be sure, once, and by the time the two-year-old manages to rip open the package, he will ignore the toy and play with the box and probably be 16 years old.) As for data cards, they’re getting smaller and smaller and are entombed in Kevlar-strength plastic. So breaking them out without breaking them in two is where the challenge lies. Even batteries – AA or AAA – come in blister packs which can give you blisters as you struggle to push them out.

Here you will be happy to note we are joined by the international community – in fact, they started sealing everything in hard plastic much before we did. But most of the packaging did still have quick release instructions (otherwise Americans would be calling up 911 every time they wanted to open a bag of chips), which somehow, never work here!

But now that plastic has become such a bad boy and is being shunted out, maybe we can hope for easier times ahead. I wonder… Instead of ‘impossible to open easily’ plastic containers will we go back to good old brown paper bags and cardboard? You know the kind that will give way and disintegrate the moment you step outside the shop? Simply because the killjoys must prevail?


The author is a writer, columnist, environmentalist and bird watcher.

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