Once upon a time, we used to know the way around our cities and villages without tapping on a Gorilla Glass screen. That wasn’t a long time ago. We bought road atlases & tourist maps before starting on a long drive.
Then came a fork in the road called Google Maps. We took the road most widely travelled. Everybody lived happily ever after. I was not one of them.
Moving With The Times?
Few years ago, Madhuri & boys served me the ultimatum on our CSD-issue, sub-12 Lac, 2005-model Maruti Suzuki Esteem LXi. After extensive market survey, test drives, budgeting and reality checks, they finally settled for a Volkswagen. Das Auto. No, not the babumoshai from Kolkata; this one was German.
It didn’t end with selection of car. There was a ‘bumper offer’ – ‘Magnifique Kit’. This ‘bunker-to-bumper’ scheme featured a high-end Blaupunkt audio system with GPS navigation, USB-SD card reader, Bluetooth, and a rear ‘tablet’, all missing from our home, leave aside car at that time. The rear tablet, to my mind, was meant to keep kids sedated on live-streaming videos while you dealt with the reality – horrible Bangalore traffic.
It’s Magnifique or nothing, our children decreed. We capitulated, even though ich bin NEVER ein Berliner.
New Car & Old Habits!
My “geewiz, how to turn this on” child-like curiosity in the VW showroom was soon shoved into overdrive with an impromptu, family road trip from Bengaluru to Palakkad. My visiting father-in-law (FIL) would also be on board. For the first time in years, our city-bred kids were excited about a trip to their ‘native place’.
“Papa, it’ll give us an opportunity to exploit the features of our new car & the Magnifique kit”, the boys roared excitedly. Sounded like a plan. Not that I needed any Magnifique to get there; I knew the route like the back of my hand.
We packed our bags, set alarm for a 5:30 AM departure to beat traffic, picked a music collection from my dusty CD spools and USB drives & set course for Palakkad with a 1PM ETA. After all, what use a premium car if you can’t let her rip on NHAI’s 6-lane expressway, right?
Wrong. We woke up to FIL’s impatient knock at our door at 6:00AM. He had been up and ready since 5AM.
ETD was quickly revised to 7:30AM view ‘2 large‘ (& then some) from last night. Children grumbled but played sport. Soon we were on our way.
“Papa, do you want to use the fastest route or the route without toll?”, Abs asked while setting up Ms. Magnifique from the rear seat.
“Fastest route without toll”, my instinctively ‘kanjoos‘ reply followed. I had just retired from the Navy. Smart cards and dumb rules had just done a 69, if you know what I mean.
I graciously offered the front passenger seat to FIL (much to Madhuri’s delight). The screen came alive with a moving-map – something I always missed in 20+ years of military flying.
The Blaupunkt system was soon multi-tasking like a naval officer. A sweet female voice chimed “turn right at traffic signal”, “continue straight for 2 kilometres”, and so on.
“Papa, what accent do you prefer? English, Indian or American? She’s programmable”, Abs offered.
“ah..err…kuch bhi chalega. I have done Russians also…English is fine, i guess”, I shot back in hinglish.
“Tch, tch…it’s early morning. Please play some devotional music”, FIL crossed his heart with some mumbo jumbo. I was reminded of Big B in ‘John Johny Janardhan‘.
In Kerala households, it is customary to play devotional music in the early mornings. Now we had a jugalbandi (fusion) of Western voice commands and Indian classical music.
Multitasking? Sure, Why Not!
Ms Magnifique coped with the precision that comes from artificial intelligence & machine learning. She let Yesudas lift the ragas & swaras but butted in whenever I missed a turn with “route recalculation” in her booming voice. Soon, I had one eye on the road, right hand on the steering wheel and left hand on the dashboard shuffling between between ‘devotional music’ for Dadu, RedFM for the kids, and bluetooth for my budget smartphone. I was the new-age Ganesha; except I had only two hands.
The commands from my brain and the “turn right / turn left” commands spewed by Ms. Magnifique never seemed to match. Soon, spam calls from telemarketers were cutting in through the receiver, muting ‘flight-director commands’. Fat fingers briefly launched Sunny Leone from my pendrive onto the ‘small screen’, leaving Yesudas on the edge of a musical orgasm. But then that’s expected of Sunny, isn’t it?
Those who live by the ‘G’, die by the ‘G’!
It took precisely 30 minutes in Bengaluru’s impossible traffic for Gen Next from back seat to lose interest in the car’s system and tablet. Without a sim card or net connection, the rear tablet was fast losing fight to mobile phones with 3G.
With Yesudas belting out temple music, incoming calls cutting through private conversations, nav-alerts from several devices churning conflicting directions, and Bangalore traffic turning rancid, mangalam soon turned into ‘Koramangalam’ as we crawled SW at 10 kmph towards Hosur on Karnataka-Tamilnadu border.
Somewhere near Madivala Ayyappa Temple, Bengaluru Traffic Cops launched a surgical strike on our plans – a simple, metal barricade ‘TAKE DIVERSION’ dragged across the street. Apparently, there was some stoppage on the Silk Board Flyover (not all smooth as silk as the name would suggest).
A Black Sworn Event!
Our Magnifique kit was unable to reconcile and went into ‘route recalculation’ overdrive. Speed of advance dropped to slow-walking pace. A right turn was inevitable. All instincts, maps, commonsense, and even devices showed a left turn.
“WHAT is all this”, my FIL blurted out, unable to comprehend what was going on.
“Dad, we were following the navigation system, but now there’s some diversion”, I explained, trying to sound calm.
“Tch tch. The sooner we get to Hosur, the better. What is all this?!”, he said with increasing impatience.
Ah, Daddy Come Lately!
“Dadu, we are not going via Hosur. We are driving via Kollegal and Satyamangalam forests which is the shortest route without tolls or anything”, a boyish voice piped up from the rear seat.
“WHAT?? The last time I heard of these places was during forest brigand Veerappan‘s time. Turn left immediately, I say”, FIL took charge.
Like a good son-in-law, I resisted this hostile takeover of my new car.
But my coup d’état wasn’t working too well. The car’s nav system was forever screaming ‘route recalculation’, Bengaluru traffic & contradictory commands issued from several quarters were getting on my nerves.
Point of No Return!
“Sanj, PULL OVER! This is NOT the route to Palakkad. I have done hundreds of trips. I have NEVER gone this way”, FIL objected with alarm.
“Dad, please understand. This is a Volkswagen TSi Automatic with Blaupunkt Magnifique kit: a modern car with GPS-enabled nav-audio system. I have paid for it, I cannot just ignore it”, I pleaded.
“Turn left, turn left! We got 3G signal! Google Maps is working now!!”, the boys shouted from back seat while Ms. Magnifique ordered in polished accent “turn right at traffic signal”.
I had a split-second to decide before driving into somebody’s bedroom at 8AM on a Sunday morning. I turned right. A collective cry of “Oh F**k” went up from the rear.
Facepalm Till Kingdom Come!
FIL had his first among several facepalm moments for the day. Slapping his forehead repeatedly, he went “Idhu endhekyuanu cheyyunathu?“, loosely translated into “WTF are you up to?”.
“Stop the car! Stop it right now! Let me ask someone for directions!”, he shouted. I rolled down the power windows on his side. FIL started asking perfect strangers the way to Palakkad – 300 kms away. The ancient ‘aviate-navigate-communicate‘ technique was back in play.
Soon, we had four different navigation systems at work. Ms. Magnifique with her hardwired directions, Google Maps still learning the way around Bangalore, Dadu (FIL) with his ‘stop-&-ask-perfect-strangers-for-directions’ model, and me, the driver, who knew exactly where the expressway was but couldn’t take it – because then it will make our German car look like a poor buy and, well, a little less ‘Magnifique’.
“Well, somebody here is a test pilot”, Madhuri quipped, never missing a bender.
India Lives in the Villages!
The traffic situation that day was enough to make dead men levitate. Soon we found ourselves off the main road, driving down narrow, mud roads on the outskirts of Bangalore. We finally came to stop at a dead end, wide open paddy fields on either side.
Few disinterested cows stood across the road, chewing cud. One of them released a steaming pile of dung in the middle of the road, maybe suggesting what our devices were collectively worth at that moment.
Ms. Magnifique solemnly announced “you have arrived at your destination”.
(Good old Dadu still remembers all his ‘contacts’ by their names and phone numbers – all memorised. He keeps a ‘pocket diary’ of useful information and navigates by feel; never hesitant to ask a fellow traveller for directions. He, like many of our parents’ generation, have not outsourced their faculties to automation or uploaded their brains to Google Drive. God bless them.)
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2018. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.