Friday, July 17, 2009

Which was more fun ?

The day after Christmas in 1969. I was 19, leaving Mumbai for grad school in the US of A, and also flying for the first time in my life, anywhere. It was a BIG event. Lots of people had kind of hinted to my folks that sending abroad a daughter at the ripe young unmarried age of 19, was a very bad idea.

Nevertheless, they were intrigued, and the few days prior to my departure were like a festival , with relatives, well wishers (I like that word; and I often look for the opposite to appear : someone who has the guts to stand up and say I am here, and I am an ill wisher. So!), friends , neighbors etc, landing up to wish me.

entire bus was hired by the relatives, all on their own, to come to the airport. In those days (as opposed to now), you could go right up to immigration and customs, to wave at people. There were no airline "gates" at Mumbai's airport. (The domestic Santa Cruz airport functioned as an International airport whenever needed). You came on to the tarmac, and either took a bus to the aircraft, or you simply walked.

My entire departure was fairly dramatic as I played a sitar in those days, and I was carrying the instrument with me. One of my father's cousins who worked for Customs walked down with me to the plane. The Japanese stewardess who met us was told that I was his niece and she should take good care of me . (She did). That I was leaving, gradually began to sink in, and after climbing up the steps to the plane entrance,
sitar and all, I sort of turned to look back, only to see the entire collection of relatives and friends on the terrace of the airport, waving desperately to me. I gulped, and waved back. You know, how the PM, GWB, Obama etc wave ? Except they don't gulp, I suppose.

There was no email and chat in those days. There were no PC's , period. International direct dialling had not started in India, and one had to book calls. On reaching the US, my brother who worked there, arranged to inform folks at home about my safe arrival. Many times when we booked calls from India to the US, we used to make a list of what we wanted to discuss, and actually kept a ticking clock near the telephone, so as to avoid outrageous spending on saying Uh-uh-Hmm, and the like. It was also the fashion then to
shout on the telephone, because you were convinced the person wouldn't be able to hear across so many continents and oceans.

My folks in Mumbai, first heard details about me settling into my university, after 15 days, when my detailed letter reached them. (An airmail letter would take 10-15 days).

Cut to 2005.

August monsoons were on, and we had just emerged from the worst flooding on 26th July . The runway was spoiled by the flooding Mithi river, flights were being rescheduled in the daytime . (For some inexplicable reason, flights in India leave and arrive at exciting times like 3 am, 4 am etc.). There was huge uncertainity about whether the flights would go at all.

My son was leaving for his grad school in the US. While he had made a special trip a fortnight before to see his uncles, aunts and aging grandfather in Pune, only his immediate family of parents and sister went to the airport to see him off.

No one,
other than passengers could enter the airport concourse, and so he went in alone to check the baggage and then came out to wish us goodbye. Of course we now had cellphones, and I reminded him that just outside the flight gate they had courtesy phones from where he could call us free. For a while we peered through the glass pane interspersed with big cutouts of welcome signs,bank ads, and the like. Followed him as he spoke to someone, sat down to fill some customs and immigration stuff, and then he went where our eyes couldn't see. So we left to walk back to the parking lot. Before we could get into the car, the phone rang. He was sitting at the gate,waiting to board, and would email us from Singapore.

He did. The next we heard was a call from my brother from the airport in the US, saying that they could see my son arriving, and would give a call when he came out after completing the formalities.
Phone calls now were so easy it was like speaking to someone in the next room.

Email and chat have certainly removed a sense of anxiety that would pervade earlier when children left to go to far off lands. The Internet has also made the world a closed loop for news. So very often , I get some news about something in India. from my son , who has been reading it. Laptops have become de rigeur at school, and when you are not working (or sometimes even when you are), you have a chat or a news site in an alternative session.
Hardly anyone writes letters these days.....

In the old days, there weren't so many families with children studying abroad. Even the postman was thrilled when he brought you blue "air mail" letters in those days. Children collected stamps, and stuck them in albums and exchanged them. Today, almost every family I know has a child studying either in the US, or UK, or Germany or France or Australia.

In my time, when I got back 3 years later to Mumbai, several relatives were a bit upset that I had not drastically changed, causing them to miss out on practicing their smart comments. I didn't wear frocks, hadn't turned blonde, didn't even wear lipstick, and what was worse, I had started driving in Mumbai , the day I landed, after 2 years of driving on what they called, the "wrong side ", in the US. ( This is actually a feat, requiring more than automotive knowledge and understanding of driving rules. In Mumbai, it is not a science, but an art ) .

Whats more, I remembered my mother tongue, Marathi, and was still comfortable speaking it. (It was fashionable then to go to the US for 3-6 months and come back
unable to speak in your own language, and such folks were a target of constant ridicule and humor, which, amazingly did not bother them ....)

I often wonder how the world has changed. Today, information is available at one's fingertips. If you don't hear about something in some expected time interval, you get into a panic. If the Network conks out, you agonize over missing emails. There are so many sources of News, (all telling the same thing), but you read all, to make sure whatever it is, is true and happening.

Has it gone too fast ? Too slow ? Is all this
instant communication really required ? Is all that effort , (required in attending to instant digestion of, and response to information), reducing and even overburdening some of our other mental faculties ? Is that the reason young people today are seen to be stressed out?

Is there a mean speed at which our brains function in an optimum way, so that the EQ is taken care of along with our IQ?

Does anyone know? I would love to learn more.......


  1. Thats a very neat question that you ask. First of all, answer to your question : i dont know !

    'is that the reason that our young people are stressed out'?

    Hmm. There is a ton of options to communicate. And there is another ton to stay in touch. And there will be a few more to stay connected. Without wires. Through satellites. And now with biometrics etc !

    But with wired living and short circuited souls, there is a sense of loss! And perhaps your premise is tantalisingly tempting ! :)

    On another note, it was way too interesting to read your first trip to the US of A and the busloads that came to see you off.

    Ofcourse, people who went to the USA spoke in an accent. heck, even if people visited the passport office, there was an accent. These days, if anyone speaks in an accent, the first question...which call center do you work in..?


    Enjoyed reading this post...

  2. Enjoyed your comparison of 'then' and 'now'! It's hard to answer your question though...

    Today's generation is certainly missing out on the feeling of 'absense makes the heart grow fonder'. They are constantly in touch. Physical absense may be there but virtual absense is impossible.

    My father went to study abroad when I was an infant; my mother and I joining him later. We still have a sepia print of around 25-30 relatives who had come to see him off! :)

  3. Very difficult to answer that question.

    Why try to find an answer? Just enjoy the way things are going...

    Your post is very thought provoking though!


  4. Hi.. :)

    First time here on our blog from Sucharita's. Infact your comment took away my excitement of being the first commentor there..:D :D..but how for good that was.. I landed up here to see some amazing posts...

    yes, i also remember the postman's expression when he came with those blue air mail. i remember my grand father also paid them some tips for getting to hear from his son (my uncle) after an interval of 1-2 months...

    and i wrote my letter last, when i was in hostel and that to my grand father, back in the year 2000.

    beautiful blog..keep writing, will keep visiting..:D

  5. I think one of the problems with instant communication is that you get used to it, and you are lost without it.

    My phone company cut my mobile last week. Yesterday evening, I was lost under the rain in a complex building still in construction, waiting desperately to hear from the friend who invited me to see her new flat, since she forgot to give me directions and door code... and after half an hour, I simply cried ! ;o)

  6. Hi,

    Sometimes I miss the letters I guess.

    The thought that someone spent some time and wrote the letter and also in the constricted space of airmail put all the thoughts..

    When I went to the US, the cell phone was god send to my parents and sis who had come to drop me at Mumbai Airport.

    I was able to know that they are on their way safe to Pune by the time I was ready to board the flight.

    Of course the feeling took time to sink in and the "Gulp..where am I " feeling came when I was over the Atlantic.

    Good to know about ur son.

    Love the way you combine different strands and view a wonderful anecdote.

    -Tina :)

  7. Kavi The old days left something to your imagination. And what you did not know and could not see, 12,000 miles away, never traumatized you. There are certainly pluses and minuses to all this "instantification"....

    manju Very amused to read about your fathers departure for higher studies. We have a similar sepia print of a similar 25-30 relatives at Bhaucha Dhakka, standing near a ship, seeing off my brother-in-law to England....:-)

    Vivek I do enjoy the current way of doing things, but I feel the older ways had more charm, and "bhardastapana".....

    PriyaThank you for the kind words....

    HeleneIn these "instant" days, one loses sight of the ability to wait and understand; and so we have high magnitude reactions...

    Tina Yes, the cell phone helps calm you down when worried. Thank you for your nice comments.