written by: Dr Usha Sridhar
My wife Kavitha and I have been staying with my son Karthik, in the USA for the last three months. He holds a senior post with a global software company and his wife Asha is a faculty at a university here. Their two sons Abhi and Ajay are regular school going kids. Since they had a hectic schedule and could not take a break to come to India, we decided to come over and spend some time with them.
We get a glimpse of them during the weekdays and eagerly wait for the weekends to catch up with them. Karthik and Asha leave early in the morning and are back close to our bedtime. The kids are involved in many extracurricular activities after school and come back only in the evening; so we manage to have dinner with them. Kavitha smartly manages the household in their absence. We two spend the week days at the museums, painting galleries, libraries, visiting family and friends close here. Our son and daughter in law plan some exciting activities for the weekends to make up for their long absence during workdays.
On weekends, our discussions generally revolve around the kids, their life and work here and ours back home. One day Asha announced that she needed some time off so that she could work on a paper that she was planning to send to a journal. I gave her a whole ream of paper and new pens to write with. She looked up at me and asked in a puzzled tone, “What is this for?”
I said in an equally surprised tone, “To write of course.” She said that she was not in the habit of writing on paper first before transferring the text on to the computer. She had tried writing on paper once but to her utter surprise found that she was incapable of making any progress. So she quickly switched to directly entering her work digitally; besides she had good scientific software to aid her in her task. She stuck to this mode of operation as it proved to be more efficient and productive for her.
I was surprised by her arguments. I am a writer and spend most of my time writing or painting. Ideas for writing came only when I penned them on paper first; I needed pen (sharpened pencils too would suffice), lots of paper and my dog Bruno to egg me on to write. Reams of paper are used to write and re-write my articles. I have a den and a big balcony facing a park and a brook back home. Sometimes I take my work to the park and sit by the brook to get the right inspiration to write. I feel that this idyllic setting has helped me transform my works and take it to magical heights.
Karthik and Asha sometimes invite friends home for dinner on weekends. They connect with them over Facebook and WhatsApp. There is a lot of messaging between them before they finally settle on a date and time to meet. I casually asked them about their experience with the new social media applications. They were ecstatic about their experience and waxed eloquently about its utility and convenience. I gathered that they kept in touch with their many friends and tracked each other’s activities by texting, sharing information and uploading pictures. On pressing them more on the topic, they revealed that they rarely met but were content to be in touch- though remotely.
Kavitha and I told them about our friends in India. We have a fairly large and close knit group. In some cases the familiarity has been passed on over generations by our parents, grandparents and theirs too. The important thing is that we provide moral succor and are there to share both good and bad times together. We are a huge (very!) extended family and are confident that even if one of us passes away the rest are there to take care of our spouse and family. We meet often to spend quality time together and have never felt the need to join the social media platform.
With just a few days left for us to return we decided to venture out on our own on a short trip. We had been warned to be careful as the trip could be a tad tedious. Kavitha met with an accident, she fell and fractured her hip and her right hand. She was rushed for surgery and advised six months rest. So now our return was delayed by a couple of months and that meant we would miss our ritual outing with our friends.
Asha and Karthik seeing our anguish suggested that we join Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp to engage with our friends. And that is what we have been doing for some time now and we are actually enjoying this new experience. Kavitha does not get even a moment’s peace; we would upload her pictures on the net to show the progress of her recovery and our friends would rib her during their chat with us on Skype.
One day I watched from far as Kavitha was showing her bruises to her friends. There was one stubborn bruise that had worsened in the last few days and she had to be on strong painkillers to reduce the excruciating pain. Aarthi and Deepa were gently consoling and counseling her. She was in tears as she heard them, but by the end of the session she was back to her cheerful self. They had managed to have a positive effect on her though they were not physically present to comfort her. So what if their words and embrace were virtual it still had the same effect on my dear wife.
My wife was very upset that she could not be with her best friend Uma (from school days) when she was becoming a grandmother. They had shared all the bad and good times together and had been there for each other; this might be the first time that they were bound to break the tradition. Karthik spoke to Uma and made all the arrangements for them to be in close contact.
One day at midnight, we got a message on WhatsApp- that Uma had a granddaughter and that Kavitha was the first person to be informed of this news. Kavitha couldn’t sleep the rest of the day, she was waiting for her friend to call her on Skype and show the little bundle of joy.
“Congratulations!” Kavitha greeted her friend.
“I’m in the seventh heaven Kavitha, we all wanted a girl here,” said Uma ecstatic.
“How is your daughter in law Mala doing?” asked Kavitha concerned.
“Both the mother and daughter are fine,” reassured Uma.
“Give my good wishes to Mala and Sunder,” said Kavitha and Uma acknowledged it.
“We are missing you here, but the good news is that Mala and Sunder want you be their child’s god mother,” Uma said cheerfully.
“I would be honored,” responded Kavitha happily.
We learnt to use the social media to be abreast of news from home and abroad, sitting in our room. I was very happy to exchange information on sports and political news with my friends; something we did daily there when we met for our morning and evening walks.
These incidents had a profound effect and had been a truly learning lesson for me. I reprimanded myself for being so anti technology and resisting these new social media applications earlier. It is said that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and in this case the benefit of the technology depends upon how it is used. As we grow old we need to be aware of the opportunities available to us and make the right choices so that we manage our lives more easily and productively.
We are now back in India and we regularly use these new tools to keep in touch with family and friends abroad. I am glad that we made peace with technology by making the right choice of embracing these applications.