My mother has a new passion that is consuming her during most of her waking hours. But before I tell you what that passion is, a preface is in order. Mom is a cerebral woman of far too many talents. Not only is she well read but she also aces at almost everything she puts her mind to. However, things, as we know, have a way of balancing themselves out. What skills god has bestowed on her in other areas of her life, he has made up for by creating a huge deficit when it comes to giving her the ability to operate anything that involves technology.
Most of her life mother has been a competitive level technophobe. She has been avoiding gadgets and appliances like Narendra Modi avoids media interactions. The few electronic/ mechanical inventions that she has used successfully over the years would be of the nature of fans, automobiles, mixers and grinders, refrigerators, ovens and hair dryers. For the most part, as a family, we have accepted this failing in her because if someone is so compellingly committed to the Stone Age, who are we to stand in their way?
I remember the time when microwaves were slowly gaining popularity in the Indian households when after much hesitation mom agreed to get one. But once it had arrived in our house, dad had to work hard to convince mother that it was just an innocuous little contraption for heating food and not a weapon of mass destruction that would explode in her face if she pressed a wrong button.
Dad spent years trying to teach mother to use the PC, even promising her a laptop as soon as she had learnt to click on the basic keys, but she always found a way to put it off.
The one gadget she did take to however was the mobile phone because she could keep tabs on her wandering children from any remote corner of the world. If back then, there were GPS chips available to be embedded into humans to keep a track of their whereabouts and hence safety, I am sure mother would have been the first one to apply for a lifetime subscription for a pair of those chips for both my sister and me.
However, when we suggested she upgrade her old fashioned handset to a smart phone, mom turned down our suggestion because “a smart phone would confuse her and then I will never even know how to make a phone call” were her words.
Precisely because of her own mental block about technology, mom felt impressed easily when she saw that her children could manage to start computers or use the dial-up internet on their own. Mom and I were on vacation together and when I used a ticket vending machine with her in Paris to buy us tickets on the train (Metropolitans) she had proud tears in her eyes. She hugged me, in front of other commuters much to my mortification, and then said “Oh you are just the most clever person. I am going to tell dad what a bright kid you are.” I was 29-years-old at that time and already a mother.
I remember her expression of awe mixed with delight when she saw me use my new i phone deftly. “You. Are. Just. So. Brilliant,” she proudly told me.
When I removed the batteries from a camera pack to recharge them, while on a family holiday in Istanbul, she smiled at me with admiration before extolling my prowess to my sister with a, “Oh isn’t your sister such a genius at everything.”
When confronted with that rare occasion when she has to use her ATM card, mom looks scared and flustered. In fact, if the need arises, she will borrow money from a complete stranger sooner than she will use her ATM card because “Oh my god, what if the machine sucks in it and chews up my card!” Right! Because the ATM machine is actually the Lochness Monster capable of biting off your fingers on a day that it has been denied its breakfast.
My sister gifted mother a Blackberry a year ago and insisted that she hand over her old phone to us just to enable her to use the smart phone out of desperation, if nothing else. This time, she surprised us all by picking it up in no time and we witnessed months of hourly BBM status updates, often with out of focus or incorrectly cropped pictures. Let me tell you though, that both my sister and I did not feel any less proud of mom than Neil Armstrong’s family in Ohio felt when he took his first steps on the Moon’s surface.
Encouraged by her success with the Blackberry we gifted mom an i-pad six months ago. It lay there, in its virginal state for nearly a month and we had to pester her to use it. My older one taught her grandmom the basics and mom did manage to learn to use it very quickly.
But I noticed something peculiar. Mom would shut down the ipad every fifteen minutes and put it away. “I do not want it to get heated up and spoilt,” she informed me, hugging it with both her hands protectively as though it was an abandoned infant in need of love and security. In time she did get adept at using her i-pad and even got onto kindle successfully.
When a close friend suggested we get mom a Facebook account to help her stay connected with all of us we leapt at the suggestion. It was indeed time to introduce her to the enchanting world of social media. We had no idea then that we were unleashing a monster and that my socially reluctant mother would become a Facebook enthusiast before we knew it.
She began her journey on Facebook with status updates, now and then. This continued till she went on a holiday to Devigarh to be with my cousin who committed the grave error of teaching mom the art of uploading pictures on Facebook. It started with photos of the landscape around the Lebua, Devigarh palace, glamorous pictures of my cousin followed, and then came the pictures of the various suites and rooms of the hotel. Photographs of temples and deities appeared shortly on her home page and just when I was expecting to see the photo of clouds outside her seat window on the flight back, mom disappointed me by not uploading any.
She made up for the two hours of airborne abstinence once she was back home in Dehradun by clicking pictures of pictures from photo albums at home. These were mostly clicked from random angles leading one to believe that the person behind the camera was taking shock therapy and clicking pictures simultaneously. While I am still dealing with this, my sister keeps zapping unflattering pictures of me to her. It is almost like a syndicate now between mom and her because mom has been uploading only beautiful pictures of her younger daughter but mostly only weird ones of me. I am waiting for pictures in my of my unwaxed upper lip from my adolescent years to appear any day now and I life in constant fear of that.
When I am feeling too vain, I only have to look at mom’s FB page to see unflattering pictures of my chin and me slouching over the laptop or passing out on the couch in the grip of lassitude. When I ask her about the source of these pictures, she sweetly tells me it is my sister. “She sent them the last time she and you were together at your house,” she says innocently.
This is a covert operation clearly for I haven’t a clue that we have a shutterbug amidst us when the sister and I are together. Then last evening, I was having a perfectly normal Sunday when I found an awful picture of mine on mom’s Facebook page from the John McLaughlin concert that I attended on Saturday with the Machiavellian sister. The angle from which this particular picture has been taken is so terrifying that I look like I swallowed both John McLaughlin and Ranjit Barot along with their guitar and drums because there weren’t enough snacks floating around.
“How did mom get that picture?” I was belligerent on the phone. “Uh, oh, I sent it to her last night. Mom feels involved this way.” She is keeping it matter-of-fact. “Really? Is your conscience on chloroform? Just look at the picture, it is on FB”. I was too overwrought for words. One would never expect that one’s own flesh and blood would do something like this to you. “Calm down, just take the password from mom and delete it,” suggested the cool cucumber.
I lost no time in asking mom for the password and the picture was duly deleted. But this morning, I noticed a comment made by a friend of my mother’s against my sister’s picture. “Shobna, you should be a proud mother of a beautiful & confident daughter.” (Sic) Please notice the ‘a beautiful daughter’ in this compliment. The lady has been on FB with mom long enough to know that she has two daughters. Need I say more.
What can I say, except that it is my fault? I should’ve known better than to introduce mom to social media. But it is too late for regrets because thanks to mom, for now, my life is an open Facebook.