BOOK EXCERPT

Indian innovation: The pressure cooker fix that saved TTK Prestige from imminent bankruptcy

The chairman of the TTK Group looks back on the billion-dollar company’s journey.

“Your cookers are bursting, and nobody wants to buy them.” With these words, a shopkeeper in Lucknow flung open the doors of his warehouse to show me row upon row of pressure cookers, all of them bearing the Prestige brand, all of which had exploded.

I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. We had never experienced anything like this, and I could swear by all that I held dear about the quality of our production. How, then, had these cookers burst?

After taking up the reins at Prestige in 1975, I had won over hostile employees and solved the shortage of aluminium that had crippled production. We got a small quota of aluminium, and that allowed us to make enough cookers to supply south India only.

By 1978 the shortage of aluminium had started to ease, and we were back to supplying our customers India-wide. But while the sales of our cookers picked up in the south, they were not doing well in the north, and I set out to find out why.

While travelling the length and breadth of Uttar Pradesh, I discovered to my shock that our pressure cookers were bursting. I met with dealers and visited warehouses where I saw the defective pressure cookers, and they were all Prestige cookers. Small wonder then that our cookers were not selling.

Nobody had told me about the problem, and though what I found was disturbing, I was glad that I had gone to the market to see it for myself. And that is a learning that I have always remembered. I made it a point to frequently visit most of our dealers, and so did my senior team members. You can never get the right information, especially the bad news, from third parties.

I realised that if we didn’t stop this from happening we wouldn’t have a business to run.

A bursting cooker can kill a person; it was not surprising that nobody was buying our cookers. That night I stayed up late in my hotel room and tried to figure out how to fix the problem.

My engineering knowledge came to my aid, and I figured out that the cookers were bursting because of spurious spare parts. While we sold good safety plugs along with the cooker, the life cycle of a pressure cooker is longer than that of its external parts; a cooker can last up to fifty years.

Customers were unknowingly buying spurious spare safety plugs. The safety plugs are made of tin bismuth, an expensive alloy. Cheaper plugs were an attractive alternative for ignorant customers.

That is the grim reality in India – spurious drugs, food and spare parts are sold aplenty. The dealers don’t worry about what they sell, so long as it sells. Since it wasn’t possible for me to single-handedly stop the use of such spares, I had to come up with a solution that would prevent the cookers from bursting even if inferior-quality parts were used.

I called the chief engineer at our factory and instructed him to keep a mock-up ready for me to work on. When I returned to Bangalore and hastened to the factory I found that the engineer had not followed my instructions. His stand was that if what I had suggested had been possible, “the people in Prestige UK would have done it. If they couldn’t do it, how could we do it?”

His thinking was not very different from that of most Indians in those days; witness the Ambassador car that India manufactured under licence from a British firm for fifty years without a single change. That was the obdurate mindset of the times.

I worked in the lab for a whole month and came up with the Gasket release system, or GRS, my first innovation. A pressure cooker comes with a weight valve that is meant to rise up and release the steam that is built up by the pressure inside the cooker. The valve then settles back in place. The safety plug is a back-up safety mechanism and regulates the pressure built up in the cooker if the weight valve fails. Spurious safety plugs that were being sold for Prestige pressure cookers did not work effectively, and instead of regulating the pressure and releasing steam, they led to the cookers exploding.

The gasket is the rubber ring that is inserted within the outer rim of the pressure cooker, and its task is to hold the lid firmly in place even as the pressure builds up inside the cooker.

The Gasket Release system is an effective safety device. It ensures that if the weight valve or the safety plug fails to function, either because the cooker is overloaded or the vent is blocked, a portion of the gasket is pushed out through a slot in the lid, thus releasing the excess steam down and away from the person at the kitchen counter. The GRS is equally effective even if spurious spares are used.

I can confidently claim that not a single Prestige pressure cooker has burst since that day. The GRS is just a hole in the lid. But if it were not for that hole, the company would have gone bankrupt.

Over the course of time, other manufacturers too have been using the GRS in their cookers. We welcomed it. I did not patent the GRS for a very strategic reason.

Pressure cookers had by then become synonymous with Prestige, and even when a cooker made by another manufacturer burst, the newspapers reported it as a Prestige pressure cooker. I wanted to ensure that our brand would not be affected, and by allowing other manufacturers to use the GRS, we could improve the safety of all pressure cookers and serve the interests of the consumers.

Excerpted with permission from Disrupt and Conquer: How TTK Prestige Became A Billion-Dollar Company, TT Jagannathan with Sandhya Mendonca, Penguin Random House India.

Corrections and clarifications: The headline of this article has been edited as it erroneously stated ‘TKK Prestige’ instead of ‘TTK Prestige’.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.