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!

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