How smart phones have made my parents teenagers

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As usual I’ll start with a quick backstory – When I was in 10th grade, I’d called a radio station to request for a song and the radio jockey had told me that I have a very hazy and seductive voice for a 14 year old. I got yelled at by my dad for being told that by a boy on public radio, yada yada yada. A year later, I was recounting the incident to a new classmate in school and he refused to believe that any radio jockey could have told me that and I offered to call him later that evening so he could hear my phone voice. As promised, I call this boy later that evening and I say, “Hey, whats up? What are you upto?” and the boy says “I’m in the toilet”! I say “Yikes, why would you take your phone to the loo, and I’m going to hang up because that’s gross!” Now, 14 years later, I am guilty of doing the same. Ok, no, I am not typing this post on the pot, but just saying.

Every time I am about to poop, I first look for my phone, because I think I won’t be able to do it alone – I need my WhatsApp groups (yeah, next time you add me to a group, think again!), Instagram Explore feeds and so on. It’s absolutely mental how these smart phones have taken over our entire lives. I am from a generation who recognises this is mental and once in a while tries to detox, take social media sabbaticals and may be even go on a phone-free meditation workshops. I don’t know what the younger generations are doing, I guess I’m going to find out as my daughter grows up. But my parents and grandparents’ generation on the other hand, have gone completely reckless like teenagers who’ve found cheap dope.

We were visiting some friends yesterday and they were talking about how their parents, uncles, aunties, etc. have now replaced the post lunch nap with a two hour WhatsApp marathon.  They are basically busy reading all forwards they have received and doing the responsible thing to do as dutiful whatsappers – forward them onto other groups they are a part of. I remember calling my mum from the US every night (when it would be her mornings) and she’d talk to me for a bit and then say she has tonnes to get done before leaving to work and hang up. When I asked her why she couldn’t finish all the work given that she’d wake up at 4:30 am, one of the big agendas for early mornings apart from doing dishes from the previous night, washing the front yard, etc., was reading all the WhatsApp messages and deleting them. Yes, you read that right, deleting WhatsApp messages is a thing amongst these uncles and aunties.

For starters, most people don’t exactly know that you can disable auto download of media onto your phones, which means you are bound to run out of space on your phone. Now, once you enlighten people about this feature, they are faced with a bigger dilemma, “I don’t always have the time to see all videos/ photos immediately, and so I may forget to download them. Also, it takes longer to download one by one for assessment.” All very fair reasons, but my response to that would be – “It’s a WhatsApp forward for god’s sake, why are you wasting your time on it, get a life!!!” My mum’s poker faced response to that would be – “Some are very important messages and are quite useful, I don’t always have the time to go looking for it on the internet”. This is usually when I give up and spend time backing up all these photos and videos onto google photos so they can move on with their lives.

I remember my parents would keep nagging us about being on our phones back in the early 2000s, and now, our roles are reversed. We are probably the first generation that is seeing our parents act like teenagers even before they fully grow old. I’ve heard/ seen that people start behaving like babies as they grow older, start to become dependent on children for being taken care off, but acting like teenagers in their 50s? Swalpa new this is for us I would say. I remember being in a team meeting a couple of years ago when I lived in Barcelona, and my mum texted me around 7pm (10:30pm IST) asking me to call her back.

The last time I’d got a message like that from my mum was when my dad was suddenly admitted to the ICU a couple of days after I’d moved to Barcelona, so you can imagine my anxiety. I immediately excused myself from my team meeting to run out to make a call and my mum picks up the phone within one ring, and says “Pinky, I can’t find the folder with all the photos I’ve downloaded from Facebook on my phone, how do I find it”. I couldn’t figure out if I was relieved to find out that everyone back home was well, or if I was amused to see what kept my mum up at night. It was the first time I was living in a different country, and I was still living with some age old ideas about what was a late night trunk call worthy news.

While we all exchange amusing stories about our respective parents and their revelations with technology, I think it is absolutely amazing that my parents’ generation have a way to keep their social lives active, even if it were just virtual because growing up, I remember wondering why my parents didn’t have a lot of friends (to be fair, as a parent myself, I now understand how hard it is to keep an active social life while juggling full-time jobs and children, and I am sure my parents did their best). I also think it’s amazing that I can see my granny every other weekend even though we live miles apart and that my entire family back home can see Berry grow up.

While technology enables me to feel at home while staying away, I do hope someday in the near future, we can just take our virtual communities from WhatsApp and recreate those into real physical communities, and restore the past. Growing up, my mum would always say that history repeats itself and what was fashionable in the past would become fashionable in the future again, and for once, I really hope that comes true.

 

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The great indian laadi

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Before leggings became a thing in mid-2000s, we were all pretty much dependent on the behaviour of the great Indian laadi. For the uninitiated, “laadi” is the colloquial term for a piece of thread that loops through the seam of one’s trousers (salwar) around the waist to hold them up.  This is how it works – The two ends of the thread come through the seam on either sides and by tying them into a bunny rabbit ear knot (one full knot+one half knot), you can secure your pants around your waist and hope that the knot doesn’t come off and let your pants fall.

Now, I don’t know who designed this or when it was designed but the adoption across different pieces of clothing in India has been staggered. Till date, we champion the laadi in grandpa chaddis, saree petticoat and patiala/ salwar bottoms as if it were the greatest invention of mankind (ok, I am sure it was at one point, but we have better mechanisms now). It’s not like the laadi has not seen any design innovation.

Given that it is fairly easy for either ends of the laadi to retreat inside the seam, and the process to bring it out is quite tedious (more about that later), there have been interesting workarounds such as tying up the two ends of the laadi at the tip of the two ends such that they are never loose to go back inside. While it served the purpose, I must confess that I personally never found it comfortable to tie a knot with a pre-knotted laadi. I preferred to keep the two ends together with a safety pin, while not using the trousers and when I wanted to wear them, just leave it pinned to one end of the laadi.

If you have ever had either ends of your laadi go missing, you know it is a supremely painful process to find it. You have to pull out the entire laadi from the seam, pin one end of the laadi with a safety pin and then using this hard pin, you guide the laadi inside the seam from one end to the other. While this is fairly straightforward, it is time-consuming, especially when you are about to head out in a hurry and then, all of a suddenly (haha) you find your laadi missing. You’d first need to find a safety pin and then do this navigation with the pin, so I’d rather just secure the loose ends od my laadi with a pin to hedge against risks.

What amazes me is despite being such a primitive mechanism to hold pants/ petticoats up, it has survived so long and shows no signs of disappearing even the face of several new technologies (elastic bands, buttons, zips, etc.). I suppose the flexibility the laadi offers is incomparable to any other – it caters to several different sizes at once, if you loose one laadi, you can easily replace it with another on your own and it’s inexpensive. Personally, I could live in a world without the pyjama laadi, but can you?

 

Daughters of Destiny

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I am one major sob queen and I am not ashamed to admit it. Any piece of media I consume makes me super emotional and cry like someone just died. As expected, the new documentary on Netflix, “Daughters of Destiny” made me weep like a baby all afternoon yesterday. This documentary is about children from socially and economically backward families being provided with an equal opportunity to education and basic quality of life, all thanks to the vision of one man, Abraham George, and the contribution of several generous donors. It is an attempt to break poverty at the most grassroots level, one child at a time.

The one thing that stood out to me from that documentary, which has been shot over 7 years, was how fluently these children spoke in English. It doesn’t feel like India. It feels like the West, where everyone including a homeless person speaks English with the same accent and it’s hard for you to know what their social or economic background is. This is so powerful, especially given that these children would have otherwise been social outcastes given the castes they come from and the stigma attached to it, till date.

To put things into context, one of the kids, was born to a woman who works in quarry and lives in a tiny thatched hut roof by the same quarry. She lived there until the age of 4 before she received admission into “Shanti Bhavan”, a residential school for the underprivileged in South India (near Hosur). She is now a corporate lawyer in Delhi, after having graduated from NUJS in Kolkata. Her two worlds are strikingly different as her family continues to live by the quarry in the same old tiny hut. I cannot even begin to imagine the level of maturity this girl has to be able to cope with the differences.

I have a lot of admiration for people who give their precious time for the betterment of others, especially at the grassroots level. We are all so caught up in our own lives that we don’t have a minute to pause and reflect on how lucky we all are to be born to our parents who could afford to provide us with opportunities to dream, and then go chase those dreams, let alone help others have those opportunities. We think it’s not our problem that these kids are born into poor homes and to each their own fate because there are people who are much richer than us and they don’t make our lives any better.

Helping someone who could use our help enriches our lives as much as it enriches theirs.   It’s impossible to know who has how much potential without being given the opportunity to explore it. All we can do as having had the privilege to explore our own potential is to be able to help one other person explore theirs, because who knows, one day, this person might become the president of our country and you’ll play a huge part in it. Just saying, in case you are curious about what’s in it for you.

I myself had the privilege of enriching the lives of close to 200 such kids that came from various parts of rural Karnataka while I ran civic education program for them over 4 years at Toyota in Bangalore. I benefiting from the experience as much as any of these kids since I learnt a great deal about life in different parts of rural Karnataka I’d have otherwise never known first hand and this made me grateful for the life I had, growing up in a city. That’s when I realised that opening yourself up to give, allows you to receive as well.

Market for renters

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For most of my life, I have lived in owned houses and the few times that I have rented one, I’ve been super fortunate to get some great landlords who haven’t been “Ramanamurthys”! They’ve always attended to all requests quite promptly making the renting experience quite comfortable. Having said that, I am a fairly decent tenant who will go to great lengths to get my full deposit back. Twice, I’ve had landlords tell me at the time of exit that the house looked better than when they had given it to me making me nervous about landlords who doubt my credibility of maintaining a property.

I recently moved to a new home in London. While laws, attitude of landlords, etc. vary by region, my current renting experience had a rather stiff start with a detailed check in inventory being carried out before I moved in and the landlord not providing an awful lot of appliances/ utensils. I wondered why the landlord was more uptight compared to my previous landlords given that the market for renting is not favourable to landlords in London, given Brexit, etc. While some bits can be attributed to culture, there was definitely more to it.

I live in the first floor of an old victorian styled house with my landlord staying downstairs, a house he probably inherited from his parents/ ancestors. This essentially means that any additional income he receives from rent is fringe benefits only. So, even if he didn’t receive any additional income, he’d probably be okay. So clearly, he has little incentive to make the renting experience super special unlike in my previous experiences, where I stayed in flats that were investments of my previous landlords. If they weren’t occupied, the investments wouldn’t yield and hence, incentives of landlords were super aligned with tenants unlike in this case.

With a tenant living right above, rental price is usually a function of pain the landlord is willing to endure since having the landlord downstairs makes a tenant more likely to complain about little things. I find myself being more fussy than usual about silly little things just because I can. Now, in hindsight, I get why my parents are so reluctant to let out their house upstairs. The additional income hardly compensates for the pain of attending to a tenant’s infinite needs, let alone the high cost of damages a tenant could possibly cause to the property, given the power balance between a landlord and tenant in India, unlike in the west. But I realise that in India, very few landlords are softies like my parents.

The initial deposit in the west tends to be 4-6 weeks of rent, which is quite insignificant compared to the deposit charged in India, which is usually 10 months of rent. When you compare the absolute amount in dollar value, they are probably comparable but its not typical for landlords in India to claim the entire amount against damages, cleaning, etc unlike in the west where you can easily be penalised for the smallest of wear and tears. So, financial incentives are designed for tenants to take better care of properties in the west as compared to that in India, making landlords in India somewhat more hostile like Ramanamurthy in Ganeshana madhuve.

P.S – I know a friend who fought a 3 year court case in Germany just because a leak in the dishwasher had caused some dampness to the woodwork around.