My cousin’s children were to come over to my house in Bombay for the weekend. I’ll call them jack and Jill in this narration. Jill lived in Bhayander and Jack in Churchgate. For those who are not familiar with Bombay, Churchgate is the starting point of local trains and Bhayander is way out beyond the suburbs and is the terminus for many trains. I lived in Parel, closer to Churchgate than Bhayander.
Jack and Jill called me up separately to say they’d start by four o clock. SO I expected Jack by five, and Jill after 6.30. I prepared their favourite dishes and waited eagerly for them in my house from where my children had flown away across the seven seas.
By seven, the doorbell rang. I opened to find both of them, with cell phones glued to their ears, muttering ok, huh , ok huh rather unenthusiastically into it. Then they cut off the phone almost simultaneously and looked at each other, shaking their heads in a resigned manner.
“What’s up, guys, I asked”
“I wonder who discovered this cell phone”. That was Jack. A very soft-spoken refined guy.
“How did your parents manage when they sent you to hostels, Mollyaunty? There were no cell phones in those days”, asked my gentle niece.
“Oh bliss it must have been to live in those days”, said jack, his eyes raised to the heavens.
“Hey hey, what’s happening”, I asked.
“Mama has been remote controlling me and appa, Jill”.
“Oh”, I said.
“She called me at 2 o clock and asked me to start only after 5.30. 'Jill ought to be given a head start so that both of you can reach the Sewari station at the same time' ”
“Appa had been tracking me even since I left the hostel for the station”, said Jill.
“And mama would tell me where she had reached. They were calling both of us every fifteen minutes”.
“Are they in their respective offices?” I asked.
“No”, said Jill. “Both are at home. It’s Saturday today, and half day”
“I see”, I said. I imagined them sitting in the drawing room, each with her/his cell phones tracking the train journey of the offspring from two ends of Mambai.
“When I reached Sewari Station, mama asked me where I was waiting. She asked me for a landmark. I told her I was waiting near the step in front of a huge Hutch hoarding”.
“And appa called me around that time and told me to head for the steps and look for Jack in front of the Hutch hoarding”.
Together they got into a cab and around the time they reached my apartment complex, each got a call from the parent. They wanted to know if Jack and Jill had reached their destination!
“Really, Mollyaunty, this is too much”, said Jill. “How did your parents send you to far off boarding schools and hostels in those days when there were no mobiles?”
“Not just, mobiles. There were no STDs in those days. One had to book a trunk call and wait for the call to be connected. Most hostels did not entertain calls from home 24x7. There was a fixed time once a week.”
“Were your parents scared?”
“Don’t know, my dear. You guys will understand only when you become parents”.
This episode takes my mind back to a little incident. Once, I had gone to Mumbai to take care of my son who had a stretched ligament. His leg was in cast but he couldn’t miss classes and sessionals. WE were accommodated in a guest house a stone throw from his college.
It was a public holiday and he was free that day. We got into a discussion about over protective parents.
“I really don’t understand why you guys have to call me so frequently. You know I’m capable of looking after myself?”
“WE came to know about your ligament problem because we called you. You were keeping it a big secret.”
“That’s because I knew both of you’d freak out at something so small”
“Small, eh? You heard what the ortho said”
“Listen amma, I am an adult. I can look after myself. You guys pray such a lot. So why don’t you trust God and just believe that God will take care of things?”
We went on for some more time but I kept silent. It becomes difficult to counter the logic of our children.
The same evening, I went out to Fashion Street and Colaba cause way. I told my son I’d be back in two hours but in two hours only half the job was done. Exactly one minute after two hours, Mathew called me.
“Am not yet done, math”
“Ok”, he said.
Exactly fifteen minutes later, he called again.
Another quarter of an hour passed. Then he called again.
“No”, I snapped into the phone.
“Hurry up. It’s getting late”
“I’m not going to hurry up. I’ll take my time”.
Another 20 minutes and I get the irritating squeal of a text message.
“What on earth are you doing, old lady? I’m getting worried”, it said.
I didn’t respond. I was really irritated.
Five minutes later, he called again.
“Amma”, he sounded tense. “Please stop for the day and come home”.
Annoyed, I decided to call it a day and hailed a cab.
“What was all that about, math”, I asked as soon as I reached home. “It’s totally inconsistent with you high flown discourse this morning?”
“You are an old lady (and I was still a few years away from fifty then) and have BP and the streets are crowded and you are absent minded and careless. So I’m justified in getting worried”!!
My mind now goes further back to those days before cell phones took over our lives. Those were the days when all human beings were compelled to give each other that space into which the cell phones now invade so oppressively.
Are we living in a topsy turvy world where the wise saying of our forefathers are being reversed? Do we live in times where invention is proving to be the mother of necessity, instead of the other way round?