Today multitasking has become a common word; it means doing many things at the same time. But multitasking was prevalent earlier too; it did not mean merely doing many activities, but practising many professions at the same time. My mind throws up two persons who were “professional multi-taskers”
In Trivandrum where I grew up an optician doubled up as a stove repairer. From 10am to 3pm he attended customers at his shop looking for spectacles. He had a thriving business and had several loyal customers. Our family was one. His workmanship was excellent and clients stayed with him as loyal customers life long.
He was a short rotund man, balding with betel juice stained teeth and thick tortoise shell glasses. But this Dr Jekyll would become Mr Hyde at 3pm when he would close his optical counter and turn to repairing stoves. During those days there were only kerosene stoves which ejected fuel in a thin spray from a small nozzle onto the flame which burnt blue. Invariably the nozzles would get clogged or the flame wouldn’t be blue. So people brought their stoves to him; I do not know how one gets to be a stove repairer, but our optician was one and a good one. Our optician would apply the same professional acumen he had been doing in fixing spectacles to the stoves; after 3pm an entirely new clientele would visit — housewives, retired gentlemen and a motley group presumably wayside tea and snack sellers. Till he closed shop at 8pm, he would concentrate on his brass stoves.
We had a family goldsmith who came to our house once a month or so. He usually came on Sundays and would sit cross legged in the centre of the hall; from the folds of his dhoti he would produce a tin box, which had seen better years and extract a small pair of weighing scales. The womenfolk would come out and talk about their requirements. They’d bring old jewellery to be converted into some other items, more fashionable and modern. Negotiations would be on and at the end of three hours or so, business would be concluded. Now came the interesting part; the goldsmith would turn himself into an astrologer. He would carefully remove his tin box with its contents to its erstwhile location and would bring out almanacs from his leather bag. Horoscopes would be produced for his scrutiny. A sick relative’s horoscope would have preference; he would make calculations, consult books and then pronounce his conclusion.
Next would come the horoscope of a boy for a possible alliance to a girl of the family. He’d compare the boy’s and the girl’s horoscopes and then say, “There are four similarities, not enough for a girl of our family. She deserves someone better. She will soon get a superior match.” An hour or so later, with all business concluded, the person who came in as a goldsmith but turned into an astrologer would depart, with an appropriate compensation for the time he’d spent.
I wonder today at the wide spectrum of knowledge and skills the older generation had. Imagine today an optician-cum-stove repairer or a goldsmith-cum-astrologer!