Something beautiful happened to me earlier this year, when I was visiting my parents in Bahrain, the country that I grew up in and call ‘home’. Like every year before this, my vacation at home was again distinctly marked by my fondness for my first love – the bed I slept in while growing up. Each day, I would celebrate the happiest part of my childhood by sleeping in my bed for the most, because there really are no better quilts, no better pillows, no better ACs, and no better air than the ones there are in the room you grew up in.
Of course, the time I was awake was spent trying to find the secret to happiness in life on Facebook, Twitter and Watsapp, like always. The only time I’d reluctantly get out of my bed was when my mother would call me for food – my other first love. During the time it would take me to gobble up ghar ka khaana, which would largely consist of all my favourite dishes (because I don’t come home everyday, na), I would have quick conversations with my mother, which would largely consist of answering just one question: “Tu karta kya hai saara din laptop aur phone mein ghus kar?” (What do you do all day buried in your laptop and phone?).
I would obviously make long-winded speeches on intellectual stimulation and expanding the horizons of my mind and how she wouldn’t understand about it all, after which she would threaten to throw the dessert in the garbage bin, prompting me to opportunely hug her and tell her how much I love her and how I’ll never touch my gadgets again. Once she’d give me dessert, I’d compliment her once more, and then run off to my room for ‘5 minutes’, after which the cycle would repeat itself at the next meal.
A few days before my vacation was to end, my mother asked me to take her shopping. I took time out from my busy schedule of faffing, and took her to a local mall, where my mother proceeded to buy an iPad to understand what the fuss is about, why today’s generation is so crazy about all this technology, and of course, because one of her friends had bought it too. Even as I imagined scenarios of ‘Uska iPad mere ipad se safed kaise’ (How is her iPad whiter than mine?), my mum finalised a shiny white one, after going through approximately 389 shops in search of the right price.
The next couple of days were spent in teaching her how to use one, answering a couple of thousand questions every minute, from how to ‘shut it down’ to how to ‘do Facebook’ on it. My mum’s had a Facebook account for a while now, but this was the first time in years that she was actively trying to use it. While I was happy to teach her the way around an iPad as long as I got her famed desserts, I couldn’t figure why my mother was suddenly so taken in by technology. She seemed as excited as a first-year college student in an exotic foreign university, and went about learning everything possible with a fervour I usually save for my work during appraisal month.
My questions to her on why she was so keen in becoming the next Steve Jobs would be drowned by her questions on whether she could use the iPad to call and text, or some such similar query. The answer to my curiosity about her curiosity presented itself unexpectedly when I managed to pry away the iPad from her gaze to play around with it myself. Before I could go about my own business, her open Facebook chat stared right in my face, and I noticed she had just finished having a conversation with her close friend.
I was (obviously) going to log out when I spotted my name in the conversation. Being inquisitive, I proceeded to read that bit of the conversation, only to have my heart melt away in its entirety. Her close friend too, like me, was surprised about my mother’s sudden interest in technology and had asked her why, after all these years, she was so taken in by the social networking phenomenon. My mother answered: “My son doesn’t have the time to talk to me face to face, so I hope that once I learn Facebook and Whatsapp, I’ll be able to be his friend again.”
I’ve often found that it’s not days, months or years, or big, intense or drastic events that alter your perspective and teach you glorious life lessons. It’s the tiny little moments of life that come out of nowhere, when you may find yourself doing something most mundane and rather unremarkable, like going on a long walk because no autorickshaw would agree to ply you, cooking for yourself a half-burnt dinner because the bai’s grandfather passed away for the fourth time in the year, or being stuck in a never-ending traffic jam because you got adventurous and took a new route, that change everything.
It’s funny how you have the greatest epiphanies during such unsuspecting moments; you may see something, hear something, feel something, realise something or even remember something, when nothing especially special is happening with you, that has the most profound effect in a way that it becomes life-affirming. Life really does happen when you are bang in the middle of it all… life happens when you are in the middle of life.
Life happened to me in that moment I read that Facebook conversation of my mother. I was overcome with all the love that exists inside me in that moment, for possibly the best mother that ever was, and at the same time also found myself feeling acute pain, for possibly being the worst son that ever was. But mostly, I was happy and grateful to the universe for slapping me across the face, and I only wished I could have seen that conversation earlier – many years ago.
As I hugged my mother that day and ensured that I spent every waking moment of the rest of my time in Bahrain in her company (to much of her surprise: she even asked me to ‘go play with the phone’ because she was so sick of me hanging around), the irony of modern life dawned upon me – that in spite of being more connected than ever before (through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, BBM, Gtalk, etc), we are getting increasingly disconnected with each other.
When was the last time that, instead of posting a message on their Facebook wall, you picked up the phone to call your friend or meet them on their birthday? When was the last time you spent an entire conversation with your loved one, without once looking into your phone or being irrevocably distracted by it? When was the last time you truly took a holiday where you closed your eyes to relish a beautiful view, instead of trying to capture it for ‘likes’ on instagram, or when you actually enjoyed the full extent of the company of friends and family, without trying to constantly stay ‘updated’ on the social media you precisely use to enjoy the company of friends and friends?
This Diwali, I’m lighting a diya each for every mother and every son or daughter, so that they may overcome the divide that technology has become, and genuinely ‘connect’ with each other. I’ve shared my happiness story in the hope that instead of trying to make our lives awesome on Facebook and Instagram, we make them awesome in real life by rekindling our human connections again. Thanks to that moment, I know I have, and will continue to always do so now, although the paradox that is technology, hasn’t escaped me: How technology itself was the catalyst to bring that moment about, and now that I’m away from my Mum again, I use the same internet messengers to keep in touch with her and ‘be her friend’ 🙂
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Note: This column first appeared on Yahoo.com on November 6, 2013
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