Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tryst with Technology

Yesterday, CNNIBN ran this news capsule on how technology is causing unprecedented harm to the health of Indians. Horror stories of how Highflying Harshad became Hunchbacked Harshad because he was spending too much time peering at his computer. People have had their wrists injured, corneas damaged, finger tips numbed, all because of technology.

As the news changed to: “Who are the invitees for the AbhiAsh wedding? A CNNIBN exclusive!”, I jabbed at the mute button hastily and leaned back to think of my jousts with technology.

Now I am a pretty smart devil when it comes to technology. I know my way around the pods and stations of the world. I am quite nifty with the computer. And at no time do I look like an ostrich whose head has been unceremoniously yanked out of the sand when some new technology enters my life. I pretty much rush up and do the proverbial embrace to every new bit of miracle that those little chips conjure up.

Having said that, there are some pretty deep scars that technology has left in my life. Not the physical kind, but the emotional kind. And emotional scars are far more terrible than discovering one day that your right palm is now a claw because of the way you type.

I think it started with the phone in the house. I was all of six. A bundle of joy and energy. My life used to revolve around my precious rubber ball. It was a blue colored thing, available in every corner shop of Calcutta and quite inexpensive because of the high rate of attrition. I would fling the ball in various directions and then run behind it in the manner of a dumb mutt to retrieve it.

Slowly, I progressed to the game of catch. The idea was to fling it at the wall and then catch it. Simple game, immensely engaging and kept me out of everyone’s way.

On one fateful monsoon evening, my date with the wall was cancelled because of the rain. I was locked in. So I decided to use the bedroom walls for practice. After about ten minutes, my Mom walked in and seeing the wall dotted all over with the marks of blue rubber, spluttered and shrieked something like “What are you doing”.

I, on my part gave her an expression, which if you were to see in any comic book would be accompanied with a thought blast that said “Doink?” I could see no ambiguity in what I was doing and was rather surprised by my Mom’s utter failure to wrap her mind around it.

Of course things turned ugly soon. I realized that my Mom’s question was not based on lack of comprehension, but rather on incredulous shock at my cretin like behavior. I will not delve into the cursing, the chasing and the whacks on the butt and me calling my Mom a witch. The upshot of all the above was that my blue ball was confiscated and I was grounded for a week.

Now when you are a six year old with a smarting butt, you don’t think too clearly. I was convinced that I was wronged, and I needed intervention to set things right. I wanted justice, right here, right now. I also needed to overturn that ‘grounded for week’ sentence.

In my infinite wisdom I decided to call my Dad. I would use the phone to fight for my rights. This new technology would put my Mom, the tyrant, in her rightful place. That was my deep belief.

I picked up the phone and turned the dial with the anger and purpose of a consumer who has just received an inflated power bill. Of course, unlike the consumer, I was bawling uncontrollably. Bengali Mom’s have immensely powerful forearms and when they swing it with anger on the tender derriere of a six year old, it hurts like hell!

After three rings, my Dad picked up. What followed was this: The English translation is in the brackets:

Dad: Hello?
Me: (bawling) Amaar ball nei! (I have no ball)
Stunned silence on the other side
Dad: Hello?? Eta ke? (Who is this?)
Me: (bawling harder and hiccupping) Aami! Amaar ball niye niyechche! (Me! My ball has been taken away)
Dad: Shome!!?? Ke niyechche? Ki ball? (Who has taken it? What ball?!)
Me: Ma! Blue Ball!
Dad: Kaar Ma? (Who’s Mom?)
Me: ~my voice laced with spite~ Amaar ma, tomar bou! (My Mom, your wife!)
Long stunned silence
Dad: ~unusually stern voice~ Ma ke phone de. (Give the phone to Mom)

I called out to my Mom, feeling happier. She is going to get it now, my mind cackled with glee. The man in the house will reverse the sentence and my ball, pride, and freedom will be restored.

I was in love with the telephone. Dial-for-distress! What an invention! Superb technology.

Mom came in with her eyes wide and asked with a quivering voice who I had called. I thrust the phone in her hands and stood back, a warm feeling of retribution, sweeping my mind and body.

What followed was a very crisp and short conversation. I didn’t catch too much of it. Mom whispered something, and I could hear my Dad’s voice loudly from the other side. It has begun, I thought. The wheels of justice will soon crush the spirit of this saaree clad dictator.

Mom kept the phone down and I held my hand out, expecting the ball to be gingerly placed back on my hand. Mom looked at me with the eyes of a tribal chief who was on the verge of announcing a purge on the renegade rival tribe and hissed, “Baba bolechche je jeeboney abaar phone korle tor haath bhenge debe!” (Dad has said that if you call him up in your life again, he will break your hands). She swirled and left in the direction of the kitchen and I was left standing there, ready to wet my pants at the thought of my broken arms.

To say that I was in shock and terror is an understatement. The telephone had actually worsened things. My Mom and Dad had ganged up against me. My blue ball was gone forever as far as I was concerned, and I was still grounded for a week. Plus my hands were in real danger of getting snapped at the wrists. For a six year old, it was the end of the universe.

It was not until college that I actually called my Dad at office again (to tell him that I had cleared the IIFT entrance). That one incident had shaken my confidence on telephones and their utility in complaint resolution very badly. Even today, I much prefer to hop across or call the person over and complain in person, rather than lift the phone and crib. Technology had not only isolated and terrorized me, it had changed the way I complain forever.

Then there was the TV incident… but that is another story.


Rohini said...

The language our parents used with us was quite amazing. I cannot imagine ever telling Ayaan that I will break his arms. Am fully in faviour of well-deserved spanking though.

BTW, welcome to the blog world.

Shome said...

We are part of "modern parenting" bunch. Our own parents were the old school. If I hit them, they would whack me back. And it was a totally acceptable solution to all. If we do that now, our kids will sue the knickers off us. Its going to happen in India too, this suing the parents thingy.. wait and watch..

shaswati said...

Absolutely brilliant piece! It brought back the memories of mine when my Mom would go off every afternoon to fetch my elder sisters from school.I would start panicking once the clock struck 3 and there my fingers would reach out to the black instrument, call up my Dad who would be in middle of god knows what at office, and start wailing out in despair... And everytime I did that, by evening, post my Dad returning from office, I would be made to wail out for another hour - but not that it could stop my unrelenting spirits from repeating the same almost within a week!

Mahua said...

I have read you blog so please quit asking me "well?" after this. OK?

Hows that for prose babu?

BTW the phone was my best friend and continues to be. so there.

Y said...

I can see i'm not the only one who got the irritating 'Well' SMS every two hours. Anyway, since you have kindly put a link to my blog AND finally commented (little matlabi hypocrite that you are), HERE you go. I really loved the 'my mother, your wife' line. Ha ha. How cute. And is that picture really you giving the finger at infant-type stage? Well done.

Shome said...

I told you people that I will follow up like a maniac. I am very poor at moderation.

Anju said...

Ah....its a real good one Am waiting for TV incident now.

Gottamove said...

Everyone of our gen would empathise. Back in the Good'ol'days when parents got to take a crack at the pest. Me in favour of old Mosquito treatment - newspaper::splat, pretty final no? though in the modern would of Mortein, I guess are we supposed to gas them into submission??!
Great piece.. rocks

tina said...

am completely amused and impressed by your story...never knew you too were bitten by teh blog bug...enjoy!

Anjali said...

Jesus!! Frankly I quite think you deserved the spanking.Wondering though, why did your mum stop at only wanting to break your arms...
I had a brat like you, he'd get a lot more than just a few whacks!

But above all, Shome really! I had no idea you could write..nice!