In the last visit to my hometown, I witnessed something less usual. While I was out shopping in the market with my father, I had chance meetings with several people; people who I hadn’t met in the last fifteen years. They recognized me instantly and we chatted excitedly for several minutes, ignoring the disappointed summer sun burning away over our heads.
They were old relatives, childhood friends, seniors, teachers. Even a shopkeeper. I met six of them that day.
On any random day, I don’t get to meet even half that number of people even in my own society. From a hectic drive on the road, the car proceeds straight to the parking lot. I offload myself into the lift and reach my floor while looking at the numbers rolling on the display inside, often to avoid speaking to a stranger I share my 16 square foot space with.
Life runs from one closed space to another.
I distinctly remember my father talking fondly to every shopkeeper he went to buy things from, much to my irritation. I was a kid then and grew impatient when he lingered at anyone.
The teller inquired about about my grandfather’s health. And occasionally made an innocent inquiry about what the money was for. The grocer almost knew what my father would buy, down to the size and the brand. The tailor kept a record of the measurements. You only needed to deliver the cloth. Relatives didn’t feel bad about not intimating before dropping in. We were always pleasantly surprised by the announcement, ‘Look, who has come’. We, in a way, looked forward to it. Visiting someone was a regular affair. School teachers came home and discussed our progress over a cup of tea.
From friends to relatives, from plumber to the milkman, from the scooter mechanic to even the telephone officer, many people had a significant ‘stake’ in our lives. And we gleefully had, in theirs.
Today, we have mastered the art of avoiding any human contact. As our life gets busier and the world outside gets increasingly riskier, we design our own cocoons and summon comfort. We roll the window up, we close the apartment door, we draw the curtains. We need our privacy while we upload our private life merrily for everyone to see.
Our cars seclude us. As the number of cars increases, the number of humans on the road decreases. I say this because I have unfortunately witnessed several cases of minor and major accidents on the road and never in a single case has a car stopped to help the victims. It’s always the pedestrians and motorcyclists who rush to help. Cars usually find a gap on the road and carefully manoeuvre their vehicles around the broken humans and vehicles scattered on the road. Inside is our little world. Outside is them, a risky unknown entity.
Life these days is easy. Slowly but surely, every opportunity to go outside – and invariably have a lot of human interaction – is being replaced by a button on the screen. Grocery, vegetables get delivered. Food comes home, hot and steaming. Every opportunity to call and speak is reduced to texting. Brown packets from e-commerce sites bring home almost anything that you would ever need. Taxis are hailed, automatic b’day wishes are sent out. Every brand charitably wants to make us happy. They make things to ease our lives, help us live better and give us more time. And we use end up using the time thus saved in doing more of what saves us the time.
Yes, it’s easy to stay at home with a mobile.
When I read the browning letters of my grandfather, I thank God that there were no mobiles then. When I run my fingers over those postcards, looking at the sharp letters with lines waving microscopically, I can almost feel him writing, sitting on his old stool. The letters invariably preserve a part of my grandfather, unlike the slippery texts on the gorilla screens today.
As I write this on a Thursday morning, my phone beeps. It’s the birthday of a friend of mine in distant Bangalore. I haven’t seen him for several years now and might have only exchanged a few emails in the mean time.
I look at my watch. 5.45 am. Let’s wake up the bastard, I decide, and reach for the phone.