Why Petromax is Repugnant

Every time I talk about the concept of “Petromax”, people give me looks as if I’m from some other planet. Sometimes they shudder. Sometimes they think I’m uncouth. While I believe that the “problem” is just that I say things like they are (rather than couching them in niceties), given that everyone reacts in a negative way when I talk about Petromaxes implies that there’s something repugnant to it. And I think I’ve found the answer – the answer lies in Option Theory.

First of all, a recap on what petromax is all about. The concept was invented by Anant Nag in Golmaal Radhakrishna back in 1990. It goes “the wife is like the lamp you light in front of God. When the wife is not at home, the house plunges into darkness, and that’s when you need a petromax”. Those of you who understand Kannada might want to watch this youtube video from the movie:

Now that the definition is out of the way, let’s come to why the concept is repugnant. It is repugnant because being a petromax is like writing an option. And in the relationship business, nobody likes being a writer of options – it makes them look “cheap” and desperate. Let me explain.

I live in Bangalore. My wife lives abroad. So I’m in a long-distance marriage and going by the Petromax theory my house is “filled with darkness”. And the theory posits that I need a Petromax. Let’s say that you are interested in filling this gap and being “my Petromax”. So far so good. Where is the problem?

The problem happens when my wife comes home, and “fills it with light”. Remember that I’m still married to her, and deeply in love with her, and that I only took you on as a petromax. So for the duration when she is here, I don’t need you any more, and don’t bother about you! So in effect, I have an option of “being with you” whenever I want, while you don’t have the same option (unless you are also using me as a Petromax, but then I won’t be available whenever you want so I won’t be a reliable petromax). So under the petromax arrangement defined above, I have the right but not the obligation to be with you. You, the petromax, have the obligation but not the right to be with me. Effectively you’ve sold me an option!

Now, in the relationships business options don’t work. The writer of the option will start thinking that the “buyer” is using him/her. Being used is not a good thing in the relationship business. Among other things, showing the world that you are willing to be used reduces your “value” going forward. So you don’t want to do this. So you don’t like to be the petromax. So the deal doesn’t work for you. And so it doesn’t work for me, since when I’m looking for a Petromax I’m looking for optionality.

And so when you say that someone is someone else’s petromax, it is an implicit admission that the said person is willing to get “used”, and is thus willing to lower his/her value. Which is not a nice thing from the point of view of this person. And hence the term petromax is repugnant. And the concept of the petromax is also thus repugnant.

But the petromax concept has been seen to work in real life. How does it work then? Being part of a small community helps, since the valuation drop is seen only in that particular community. Then, there can be some restricted structuring where neither sells each other an option, and set up an “and condition” (being together if and only if both are available and interested at the same instant).

Ok I realise that this post itself might be repugnant to some of you but these things need to be explained!

The big deal about the half-girlfriend

When all of twitter outraged about Chetan Bhagat’s latest masterpiece “half girlfriend” I didn’t know what the big deal was. Given that concepts such as ladder theory, friendzone, GBF (Gay Best Friend), FGB (Foremost Girl Buddy), Goalkeeper Theory and Petromax are all so well documented and accepted, it doesn’t take much of a leap to get to the concept of “half-girlfriend”, as described in the flipkart summary of the book. 

It seemed to me that the people that were outraging were all pseud-types who had hardly been single in their youth and how looked down upon IITs and IITians (for lacking social skills; and guilty as charged on that count). That they were people who subscribed to a certain view of how friendships and romances and relationships should function, and who were incapable of appreciating any alternate mechanisms. I could think of them as the people who got madly outraged when I put out my now classic blog post on petromaxing in business schools nine Deepavalis ago.

But now that the book has already come out (I have no plans to read it since I don’t read fiction. Moreover, considering myself an authority on alternate mechanisms of romantic relationships, and am married to someone who considers herself an authority on conventional mechanisms of romantic relationships, I don’t think I can bear being lectured upon on such topics), and people that I know, or people that know people that I know have started reading it, I realise why the outrage is all about. Consider this sample which I got on one WhatsApp group this morning:



The first reaction is that the quality of writing is horrible, but then that’s how Chetan Bhagat writes, and that’s how the audience he writes for wants him to write. And then the whole crassness of the implementation of the concept in the book hits me – while the concept of half-girlfriend might be a bloody good one, with wide-ranging implications and mechanism designs, it seems like (based on the above limited sample) the concept as instantiated by Bhagat doesn’t hold a candle to its potential!

I’ve now crossed the floor. I’m now in the camp of the people who believe that Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend is cringeworthy – and I find it cringeworthy not because of the concept (which I think is rather worthy), but because of the way that Bhagat seems to have butchered it and made it appear crass and “LS”. By writing this book, Bhagat has nipped in the bud what might have been a phenomenal alternative relationship concept. And that is unforgivable.

I don’t normally quote sitcoms, and I don’t normally watch sitcoms, but given we are on the topic of alternative relationships mechanisms, I can’t help but put a short video featuring perhaps the greatest purveyor of alternative relationship mechanisms of all time – Jeffery Murdoch from Coupling. I couldn’t find an extract from the episode, so here is the full first episode of the first season of Coupling in all its glory! May you be able to get rid of your unflushables!

Search Keywords for April

As you might have figured out by now, this is a monthly feature on my blog – I collect the most interesting set of search key-phrases that lead to my blog and put them here. Here is this month’s list:

  • neha jain skimpy
  • skimpy vijaya atulya jackasses
  • arranged market opinion 2009
  • arushi nehra petromax
  • cory doctorow terrorist statistical argument
  • films on dream and daydream
  • history of south indian breakfast
  • influence of dutch on south indian food
  • isb chutiya
  • savita bhabhi in tamil
  • siddharth tata part of the tata family?
  • south indian restaurants norwich
  • the defference between english medium and hindi medium schools
  • vimax pills india gurgaon