“Papa, please have some patience. Can’t you see I am studying?”, my teenage son replied when I asked him if he should be mixing YouTube videos and MMORPGs with studies.
With half a dozen ‘windows’ open on the PC, he was shuffling between work, play and entertainment like some new age juggler. Every few seconds, a ping on the smartphone announced the arrival of yet another distraction. If all that wasn’t enough, our pet cat Cutepaws was demanding another round of neck massage, ensconced in his warm lap.
I am not complaining. Why should I? We are living in 21st century India and enjoying achhe din (good times). It took a damn long time to get here.
“Since you mentioned patience, let me tell you, it’s a virtue fast depleting from society”, I hung out the bait.
“Yeah, yeah…I know what you’re getting at. All our discussions finally boil down to whittling my online time, isn’t it?”, he shot back, eyes still transfixed on the screen where he was marshaling what looked to me like an army of bots against some fortress under siege.
“Well, if you take your eyes off that screen for five minutes, I will tell you how it was when we grew up.”
“Ok, ok…bring it on…but only on one condition”, he shot back between three rapid strokes that sent the machine into suspended animation: “We don’t judge the present based on the past. The past, present, and future are one continuum. They are not discrete which can be compared with the same measure”, he threw some of his elder brother’s university curriculum at me.
“Who told you that? Google, Alexa or Facebook?”, I asked bemusedly.
“Papa, you know I am not on FB anymore. One Zuckerberg, many suckerbergs; I am not one of them”, he proudly defended his hiatus from FB after the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.
“Fine, whatever you say. Let’s rewind the clock a bit”, I quickly agreed as he threatened to whip out his smartphone again.
Do you know your grandfather used to queue up overnight in Victoria Terminus (now Mumbai CST) railway reservation counter two months in advance so we could get the train tickets to our ‘native place’? It was a suspense that could end either way. Nobody could predict the outcome until you reached the counter. The reservation clerk would pour through a huge, dog-eared ledger and, if you were lucky, issue a bunch of cardboard tickets which my mom used to keep in a Godrej almirah’s safe. Now we complain if a website hangs for 10 seconds. How times have changed.
Cash: Earned the Hard Way!
Our own money deposited with the bank was hidden behind a bureaucratic pile of withdrawal slips, tokens, tellers and passbooks with a queue for each activity. Finally, when we got to the counter, the teller would take another two minutes counting the pile, running his hand over a sponge pad every few seconds. 100-rupee notes were a rarity and 1000-rupee notes were usually the preserve of mafia dons or black marketeers. Now we baulk at a queue of two at the ATM and zip around on electronic money. How times have changed.
Cassettes & Tape Recorders!
We grew up on tape recorders. The early ones were a flat-bed type that would swallow a 60 min cassette tape.
Because occasionally the head and capstan mechanism used to mutilate and devour the magnetic tape, which had to be then painstakingly unwound and spooled back into the tape. Song selection was not possible. We had to note the tape counter and then rewind or forward the tape a number of times before getting to the song you wanted.
“Oh, that’s so damn boring!”
Yes, you could say it ‘sucked’ but we never knew any better. Even with that technology, I recorded many cassettes for your mom – her favourite tracks – over many moons. Now we can’t stand YouTube® buffering for a few seconds and are ready to throw out the internet service provider every quarter. How times have changed.
Encyclopaedia Britannica and World Books!
Information was only available in bulky, expensive encyclopedias. Only the affluent could afford them. We survived on magazines like Competition Success Review and Manorama Yearbook to update on current affairs (that was weeks old). Memorizing country-capitals and world currencies was considered ‘preparation’ for competitive exams and interviews before globalization threw open the doors and brought down walls. Your generation woke up to an internet-enabled world, search engines and 2-minute noodles. How times have changed.
The Tailor Chacha!
Middle-class families like ours bought long rolls of cloth at special rates and dresses were hand-made for all siblings by the same tailor chacha (tailor uncle). Families’ youngest (like me!) usually grew up on hand-me-downs, be it books or clothes. Small ‘cut-pieces’ left behind were converted into hankies and covers for tape recorders and household appliances. Reduce, reuse, recycle. That was our mantra. Now it’s Myntra.com. How times have changed.
STD ISD PCO!
Only one or two houses in any locality had landline phones, the only phones those days. We used to pass that number around for emergencies. Getting a ‘trunk call’ was grave matter, usually reserved for a birth or death in the family. Post Offices ran Telegrams and Money Orders. The joy of receiving few crisp currency notes through a ‘money order’ cannot be described in words. Gone are the trunk calls, money order has been replaced with a soulless ‘ping’ notification while Telegram has shifted to the cloud with postmen of yesteryears. How times have changed.
When Air India was a Maharaja!
Folks like us used to go to the airport not to catch flights but to see aeroplanes. I still remember my first visit to the viewing gallery of Santacruz airport and gazing mesmerized at the huge tailfin of an Air India Boeing 747 like it was some spacecraft. Relatives who lived overseas used to hand us scented ‘wet tissues’ picked up from their flights from Dubai or Muscat. I used to sniff them fondly after locking myself in the bathroom. It had the aroma of dreams and promise of faraway lands we could only read about in textbooks. Now we have Swiggy & ’30-minute guarantee’ while we used to wait a whole year to have the Indian Railways’ ‘vegetarian meals’ served on a cold, steel plate. How times have changed.
Ah, the Weekly Movie!
Something like 1-in-20 homes had a television set. We had a ‘black & white’, take-it-or-lump-it choice of just one channel – Doordarshan. Sitting cross-legged on mosaic flooring & watching the weekly movie was a ‘communal’ activity before the politics of hate twisted that word. Those were days of TV sets that ran on diodes which had to heat-up to work. Often, the picture would go all shaky and start dancing. Small knobs called V-hold and H-hold had to be then carefully adjusted to stabilize the picture while people took loo breaks (it took that long!). After a 3-hr movie with just one or two still-ad breaks, everybody thanked the host, shuffled back to their homes & waited a full week before the next weekly delight.
Sometimes, an odd national leader passed away and Doordarshan went into 7-days state mourning. All you got was Bismillah Khan’s haunting shehnai music. You carry 1Tb of movies in a portable hard drive, spend a 70s family’s monthly salary on one movie and popcorn and say ‘maza nahi aaya’. How times have changed.
An Era of Darkness!
What do you know about darkness? Have you seen or lived in non-electrified houses? Our native place was electrified in the early 80s. Before that, entire villages would descend into pitch darkness after sundown and we used to sit around a kerosene lamp, swatting mosquitoes and saying our prayers. Mom used to fan us with a hand fan and recount stories from mythology till we fell asleep. The sky was bedecked with a million stars. Only the occasional screech of an owl broke the stillness. Washrooms were outside the house and answering nature’s call was by itself an adventure at night. You guys grew up on 24/7 back-up, power banks and want attached washrooms even in wildlife sanctuaries. How times have changed.
Books, Books, Books!
Come summer vacation and we used to run to the nearest library! We had a library called ‘Chembur Chase Corner’ in bustling Chembur market. Imagine a library dedicated exclusively to James Hadley Chase! Skimpily-clad models adorned the cover of all Chase novels! So we used to cover it with newspaper and stow them away from prying eyes. Rent, read, return was the only affordable option. Tintin, Asterix and Amar Chitra Katha used to be strewn everywhere. These books had definite start & end points, unlike endlessly scrolling playlists and electronic media. Yet we couldn’t put them down. Unless of course it was time for some gully cricket!
Thrashing about in rain-soaked playfields, breaking window panes, then running to hide from ‘Fernandes uncle’ was the staple! Builders, developers, walls and gated communities slowly usurped our open spaces. Huge, leafy trees fell. Potted plants and terrace gardens replaced gulmohurs and ashokas. Sparrows, crows and vulnerable species quietly left the city. Pigeon-proofing is now a flourishing business. What does that tell you? Times have changed, haven’t they?
“Ok enough. This must be so depressing. Aren’t you glad to be living in 21st Century India?”, I asked him.
“Yes & no. How about a good blend of both? I want my laptop and mobile. My life runs around it. But I also want trees, birds, and bees back. Why should I be asked to choose one or the other?”
“Ah, fair question! Let me ask Google Assistant!”
“Ok Google, where have all the birds and bees gone?”
Google Assistant (in her flat, dry tone): “on the website livescience.com, they say the phrase birds and bees is a metaphor for explaining the mechanics of reproduction to younger children relying on an imagery of bees pollinating and eggs hatching to substitute for a more technical explanation of sexual intercourse”
Wow, but that sure didn’t help! Welcome to digital personal assistants, artificial intelligence and instant gratification. Goodbye, birds and bees! How times have changed!
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2018. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal. Images from ‘iToons by Sunil Agarwal & Ajit Ninan’ used with the cartoon writer’s permission.