My mother grew up at a time, when computers were not only not there, they weren't even on any horizon that she could see. While life went on peacefully with traditional hardware making things in life relatively easy, the software was mostly in the head.
At some point, calculators happened, and the initial reaction was that they threatened the "learn your tables" philosophy. The progression, if one can call it that was interesting. My parents and their contemporaries knew tables, of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 , 3/2 , and one could sense immediate applications of the same when one accompanied folks to the mandai or vegetable market. The vendors probably knew the tables too, and a decent truthful calculation by the vendor often earned respect from the purchasing parent. As children we learned tables of all integers till 30, and had to recite them daily before dinner. Somehow, we escaped fractions.
It was not just the mathematics. There was a method to remembering things. You associated events with people. You associated, relatives with people. You associated professions with people. And if you discovered any cross linkages, you remembered those too, creating more and more links and indexes as life went on. All sitting nicely in your brain.
As an adult, it was fairly common for me to meet at my home in Mumbai, someone from , say Pune, and sense that maybe I knew them. A quick call to my mother, and a summary later, she would rattle off how the person was linked to some one's someone, who was connected to me in a roundabout way. In the Maharashtrian way of defining relatives, aunts/uncles/nephews/nieces are never defined in general, but have specific names based on how they originated, which side of the family, and how close (once removed, twice removed etc). It was amazing that my mother's generation had this inborn constantly updated mental software, that allowed them to link people, and more important, store and retrieve this information at random and at will.
And so, when my mother identified someone as someone's brother-in-law's maternal aunt's cousin's daughter , a light was supposed to go off in my head. And all this time it was totally clear as crystal to my mother, how we knew the person, as I tried to follow half way there, and gave up.
One of the reasons they were able to do this, is because they continuously used their brains, and kept the algorithm alive. "Use it or Lose it" was not an old saying, but was really meant for us.
Some of it rubbed off on me . For other times, there is always Facebook.
A few days ago, I got a message from someone in Melbourne. It was someone (SG) who often commented on some food poetry I wrote on a friend's recipe posts. I didn't know the lady, but had, as they say, seen her around on Facebook.
Turns out, that her uncle (twice removed, ie not a direct relation, but through her mother's aunt) was on her FB friends list, and she found me on that uncle's friends list. ( It happens that I am related to him by marriage). She ecstatically messaged me defining the complete people link in detail, and giving some of her own family history, and the place where she spent her childhood years.
Turns out that , my in-laws spent their early married years, with their young children, in the same city , same area, and when I messaged her back with this information, she was probably thrilled to bits. She told me , that she had actually spent her childhood knowing my in laws, knew the entire family complete with their childhood pet names, and often stayed over at their place as a child.
This lady is older than me, (I am 65), and if you actually analyze all the linkages of the people that link me to her, I end up being an aunt of hers.....
As if this was not enough, the next evening, I got another message from someone else (SC) in Melbourne, mentioning my mother by name , and asking if I was her daughter. Enthused, we spoke on the phone, and it turns out that she knew my mother very well about 35 years ago, and then lost touch after going to Australia. This lady too , is 71, and says she remembers meeting me at my parents place in Mumbai.
Then again, in a manner which would have had my mother nodding in approval, the talk got around to some relatives on my fathers side that she was connected to by her marriage, . Five minutes later, it turned out that she even knew the person i worked for before I retired, and was his first landlady in his early marriage years.
Just when I was taking a deep breath, she tells me that that she and the previously mentioned SG (also now in Melbourne), both have great grandmothers who were sisters. And somewhere in between she lets me know that I sound just like my mother when I speak ......
In a way, all this gladdens the heart. People look out for folks and initiate friendships, value old links, and respect genealogies. It isn't all about being on Facebook and "liking". It isn't about beeps and notifications reminding you about events like birthdays, family group messages and stuff. It isn't about operating systems outside your brain reminding you about who is who, and offering you a template about what's a good thing to say to them.
I have nothing against computers, cell phones and their capabilities. I have everything against lazy brains that leave everything to these contraptions, and blindly ape murdered English language syntax, and substitute screen games for human conversation.
Having heard about fancy chess folks who play against computers, it boggles the mind to think, that perhaps, my mother , had she been alive today , could have played a game against a computer, trying to find the connection between me and the above two ladies.
Possibly , the machine would have gone into an infinite loop trying to figure out who was who, amidst all the agitated relational databases and indices .
She would have won, hands down.
Mind you, hands down, but not idle hands. She would have been busy making something for her grand kids, while explaining the linkup to me.....
Just remembering her today. Her birthday . She would have been 98......