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The India Diaries: My Grandmother's House Is a Tchotchke Zone

Tchotchke means trinket, you idiot.
March 7, 2014, 6:00pm

I arrived in Tenali about a week ago. It's a town in the state of Andhra Pradesh with a population of about 100,000 known for its many institutes of higher learning as well as its many canals. The latter has made the town known widely across the state as "Andhra Paris," which is obviously misleading for many reasons—namely that it is a town in India with a population of 100,000. The structures on any one street vary so widely from place to place that it's hard for somebody from New York to believe. This street alone contains many nice houses with complete marble interiors, an empty grass-strewn lot with 2 palm thatch huts and no source of plumbing, and a lean-to with several buffalos tied to wooden stakes underneath. This is all within 100 yards.


My grandmother's house was built 40 years ago before my mother was 20 years old. Prior to that they lived in a palm thatch hut with two rooms that was very common at that time. The roofs needed to be replaced every ten years by specialists who knew how to layer and build the roofs with the dried leaves. That shit sounds completely insane and awesome to me. Anyway, my mother moved to New York to hang with my pops (who'd been there since 1978) and I've been intermittently visiting this place and seeing how it's changed since.

One of the constant changes are the various, often strange additions to the "tchotchke zone." Every house I've visited here has had several shelves somewhere dedicated to various small dolls, porcelain figurines, action figures, and even stuffed animals. I can't quite explain why or how these developed. My mother says a lack of availability of foreign art objects combined with a value for anything “different” explains the phenomenon of the tchotchke zone, often called a “showcase” here. I'll take her word for it. I decided to investigate some of items I've found here and get some feedback from my grandmother.

Stuffed Animals

These two are actually charming for their lack of resemblance to any actual living creatures, their bright colorss—and of course, their little bowtie and cape, respectively.

"Tribal" Figurines

These have a racist look and feel about them reminiscent of similar figurines and logos with depictions of Native Americans on them back home. I'm going to assume they're at worst, racist, and at best, somewhat racist. My grandmother says they are from the village of Kondapalli in the Krishna district. They’re famous for woodworking sculptures and little colorful toys. I don’t know what to make of that.

"Woman" Bobblehead

Wasn't there a bit of a bobblehead craze like ten or 15 years ago? They started giving them away at baseball games and they would frequently pop up in car commercials. Maybe that is still happening, who cares. It looks it reached India at some point.


I'm super into these poorly constructed lions. They're funny like, that monkey-looking Jesus that woman created when she tried to restore an old painting herself. Nobody remembers just another boring old painting of Jesus, but I think about that monkey-Jesus at least once a week. They should have these two guys outside the New York Public Library instead.

White Women Dolls

Things like this have been in quite a few of the zones I've seen since I've been out here, although mostly made of porcelain and not nearly as horrifying or creepy as these.

Cuckoo Clock

My dad hung this clock in her house maybe 20 years back. A little bird would come out and scream and then a terrible little song would play EVERY HOUR. Thankfully they brought it to India to give to my grandmother, and we were free of having to hear the racket until he bought ANOTHER CUCKOO CLOCK shortly afterwards.

This one stopped working a few years back. My grandmother says a local repairman took 500 rupees from her just to tell her that he couldn't fix the thing without having to get replacement parts from Hyderabad or the United states.

Ugly, Generic Photos

One of the generally agreed upon crappier design elements in the house are these generic, old, and peeling photos that my grandmother has hung on the wall here. Hanging inspirational photos of tropical landscapes is way less effective when you live, more or less, in a place just like the photo on the wall. As for the bottom photo, people apparently ask my grandmother if that is one of her grandkids. I wish.

Ajanta Tongue Cleaner

I thought tongue scraping was a part of everybody's morning routine until sometime in grade school when I asked somebody if they used metal or plastic tongue cleaners. They obviously had no idea what I was talking about and I quickly wisened up to the fact that Americans are totally gross and walk around with scum on their tongues and stank breath. Actually, I stopped using these things fifteen years ago but have just recently gotten back into the habit. The company that makes this dental equipment also appears to make a variety of quartz clocks I’ve seen in a lot of people’s homes and businesses. Not surprising considering the Tata Corporation makes everything from tea to small, cheap cars.

Tall Tubular Battery

The electrical grid in this area and many other parts of the "developing world" are spotty and the power goes out for periods of five minutes to an hour at least once a day, usually two to three times. To help keep kitchen appliances, lights, and televisions operating continuously, these huge batteries are kept somewhere in the many homes that can afford to purchase them. When the power dies, the lights blink briefly and then immediately turn back on. In this house, only the lights and ceiling fans (the essentials) are connected to the battery.

Old and New Bathrooms

Indians traditionally clean their behinds post-defecation with a small bucket known as a lhota that is filled with water. You can figure out the rest. You may think that's gross, but Indians think people walking around with small bits of feces stuck to their ass all day post-toilet paper wiping is gross. But think about it: Grown men walking around in giant glass buildings shaking hands over billion-dollar deals, each of whom is secretly walking around with a little crap stuck to their butt. Who's gross now?

The house used to have an outhouse in the back with a squat toilet. The "squatting" position greatly reduces the difficulty with which one can relieve themselves and also leads to fewer lower digestive tract diseases. The toilet we use in the West is a Victorian conceit meant to preserve one's dignity. Or at least that's what I read somewhere, I don't know if any of that is true. Also, I hate squat toilets because they're gross and I'm a spoiled piece of garbage.


When we wanted to take a shower my grandmother would have to heat water over the small gas stove and we'd bring that into the outhouse and pour water over ourselves with a bucket. It was actually incredibly relaxing. The only thing that has changed is my grandmother has a new bathroom with a Western-style toilet and a water heater known as a geezer (amazing) that has to be switched on prior to use.

PVC Parrots Door

Don’t forget to notice the small man on the bottom left of the tree. [Ed note: Holy shit.]

Mosquito Racket

Lastly, my favorite thing of all is this electrified mosquito racket. Mosquitos are way less of an annoyance here since my grandmother installed screen doors but there are still so many openings here and there that a few of them inevitably get in. It's fun to run around the house intermittently murdering mosquitos, especially in the early mornings when they're full of blood and easy to electrocute. Here's where an even shittier writer would make a joke about being reincarnated as a mosquito.

I couldn’t leave without making my own contribution to the showcase/tchotchke zonet: Jenny Rabbit. Enjoy.

Dapwell loves taking pictures of weird shit in India. He's on Twitter@dapwell