Generation Older wants its information now. Gen Y merely wants messages it can ignore.
I guess we text with some and talk with some, but this business of going to great lengths not to make a phone call seems a bit much. Perhaps I should actually make phone calls to unsuspecting friends and try to have a conversation. Here is my piece in today’s Brunch
For those of us starving South Indians who crave decent samosas, transiting through Mumbai is bittersweet for one reason: the food court and its chaat. I know, I know. All you Mumbaikars who have access to delicious samosas and chaat every day – at midnight if you so prefer – will quarrel with the quality. But hey, it is good enough for this South Indian.
“People text because you can ignore texts,” my daughter said. “You don’t have to answer them right away”
It was here, while chewing heartily and happily on a fully loaded samosa chaat that the thought occurred to me – are you a texter or a talker?
The reason for the thought was a conversation at the next table. I shamelessly eavesdropped. Mother, father, college-age daughter, all waiting for the daughter’s friend. They were chewing on what I thought were rather insipid dosas.
“Why don’t you call her?” asked the mom.
“I already texted her,” said the daughter.
Ten minutes later, the father said, “She may be standing at the wrong gate. Why don’t you call her?”
A pause. The daughter replied, “I’ll just text her again right now.”
I waited for the dad to explode as I did frequently to my kids. “Why don’t you just pick up the bloody phone and call instead of this incessant texting. And no, you cannot swear even if I just did.”
This father didn’t explode. He just dipped his dosa into that apology of a sambar. Poor sod.
And then the penny dropped.
The dad didn’t explode because he had accepted what I was fighting against. There are two types of people in this world: the texters and the talkers.
Everyone from the previous generation is a talker. They prefer to pick up the phone and call you. If you don’t answer your mobile, they will immediately call the landline, your colleague, your driver, or whoever is nearby till they actually hear your voice. This is because the phone is now not linked to location (like the landline used to be) but to a person. And how can you not answer the call of your mother or father? It is one thing if you are at work. After office hours are another matter. My uncle has been known to call my neighbours and say, “You know, I have been trying Shoba for two hours (not true – it was only 20 minutes since the first missed call). She is not answering. Can you just walk over and see if she is okay? I just want to make sure she returned from her Delhi trip.”
For the record, I send all my loved ones – currently an ever-expanding phalanx of neighbours, drivers, colleagues, parents, uncles, and relatives – texts the minute my plane lands.
The youth of today is the opposite. They will go to extraordinary lengths not to have a conversation – even in situations where it makes so much sense to pick up the phone.
“Hey, I am outside,” texts my daughter as we wait in the car.
“We are right here. Why don’t you ring the doorbell?” I say.
She looks at me like I am Stephen Hawking, or a dimwitted version thereof. “Someone may answer the doorbell,” she replies.
So what? I don’t get it. Before I say anything, her friend is out. She jumps into the car with a cheery, “Hi aunty.” A hug and a couple of “Wazzups,” and the two high-schoolers sit beside each other, texting away on their individual phones, companionably chuckling and occasionally murmuring alien-speak such as, “Did you see what SnooptheDogg posted on his Insta?”
“Why do you text so much?”
Perhaps it was the neutral non-accusing, non-preachy tone of voice that caused them to look up and pause for a moment. “People text because you can ignore texts,” said my daughter.
“Yeah, you don’t need to answer right away.”
And they went right back. I gazed at the two teenagers, contented and absorbed by the phones, with epileptic thumbs and muffled chuckles. Gosh, I thought. There used to be an old Tamil proverb that said words are like pearls, don’t waste them by saying the wrong thing. Prying a word out of these kids was indeed like prying open an oyster for a pearl.
So I did the only logical thing that a wannabe-cool mother could do.
“Burger or pizza?” I texted my daughter.
A second later, she looked at me sideways and smiled. “Ma,” she rebuked. “See what my Mom just sent,” she showed her friend. We were, the three of us sitting inside a car in a straight line. Now, all three of us on texts.
To my delight, I got a reply. “Neither,” said my kid. “Let’s do Indian, LOL.”
I wasn’t giving up just yet. “ROTFL,” I replied.
“LMAO,” came the text. Now, that I had to look up.
The weird thing was that none of us were laughing as we typed LOL. Not laughing out loud, not rolling on the floor laughing or laughing our respective behinds off. But hey, if talking itself took so much effort, then laughing? Laughing, as Rani Mukerji said in that classic movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai about dosti or friendship… Well, laughing bahot door hai.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents, an integral part of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)
This Indian Life appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, June 24, 2018
BRUNCH Updated: Jun 23, 2018 22:13 IST