Wednesday, October 03, 2012


It is intriguing to realize, how meanings and relevances of words, undergo modifications,  with the passage of time.  To spell it out in clear words, how the meaning changes as you age.

When I was in primary school in the 50's , the word SMART, brought to mind, certain Anglo Indian and Parsi class teachers, who wore these frocks and straight skirts and heels, and looked exactly like folks in Life magazine, which came home sometimes from the circulating library, my folks subscribed to.

Somewhere,  a few years later , our class had (human) "monitors", everyone aspired for that badge and the opportunity to move around class with a ruler, in the teachers absence, and if someone disobeyed you, you glared , jotted their names on a report sheet, and asked them not to act SMART !

At some point, we became aware of some of our classmates who were termed SMART, who always knew the answers, who never had to stand outside class, or on chairs, and who went into mourning when they got less than 10/10 in dictation or maths.  There were some other popular folks who actually sang well, did well in sports  et al, but no one ever thought of them as SMART. Strangely, certain disobedient types were sometimes accused of trying to be too SMART, and one realized that the word was multidimensional.

Somewhere in high school,  SMART started to have something to do with appearances, once again.  The teachers were now in sarees, sometimes resembled our mothers,  and we would secretly admire some of our classmates, who sported the same drab uniform as we did, but with so much more panache and style.   It took some ability to wear naughty boy black shoes, and walk with a sway, as if you were wearing pointed heels, and gently throw back a fringe of hair, which had escaped the Principal's strict eyes.  These were the students, who came on valedictory celebration days wearing imported Georgette sarees which hung perfectly just so, with sleeveless blouses which were frowned upon in some of our houses;  and you had to hand it to folks, who despite being blessed with the same anatomy as us,  took puberty in their stride, unlike some of us who thought   that the best way to keep things under control was to cover both shoulders with the saree palloo, an eminently UNSMART move, as it was thought of then.

College , caused a sea change.  You could be really ordinary looking, with two tight pigtails and walk with a hunch, and you could still be SMART because of your grades.  You could be someone slightly better looking but with a huge dollop of confidence, not extending to academics, and you were equally SMART.  An ability to gather surreptitious glances from folks of the opposite gender in your class  labelled you as SMART.  Being able to make excellent timely decisions with far reaching consequences (like going to med school, because you got excellent marks in the prequalifiers)  was considered SMART;  going for a basic degree in pure sciences (simply because you loved a subject), despite getting excellent marks in the prequalifiers was considered STUPID.  (I should know. Folks were aghast that I did not choose engineering. ....).      

Seventies brought in the entry of machines into our lives, and electronics reigned supreme.  SMART was all about teaching machines how to do orderly tasks, by learning languages understood by machines. Once away from the realm of  academics, SMART was all about finding your way amidst a society straining to modernize, yet pulled back  by the safety net of conservative thought. SMART was about holding a job, and advancing up. SMART was about changing fields and succeeding. SMART was about attempting entrance tests and succeeding. SMART was also about going abroad and never returning. No one was considered more FOOLISH, than those who returned from abroad  to the mother country despite having opportunities elsewhere. (Ask me, I did that :-)...).......

PC's happened, and SMART became something completely different. Machines had now become smart.  You didn't need to know tables and smartly calculate stuff  if you ran a shop. You had machines that would add up, and tell you how much change was to be returned to a customer. You had cars that spoke, maps that guided you to wherever you wanted to go, and vehicles beeped when you didn't close doors properly. You had phones without wires. You could sit in one place and click things on and off without walking a step.  Photographers and films were not needed to capture images, which you could do in front of a laptop.  SMART was all about emailing folks and forgetting the art of writing letters.  SMART was all about being really good at using these contraptions.

Till cell phones happened.   Smart Ones.  They did all kinds of things. Besides allowing people to converse audibly, that is. 

I've been overwhelmed by the sheer reach of the technology.   You can message, you can hear the radio, you can record someone , you can photograph, you can take videos, use the flashlight feature, calculate, draw,  and paint. You can also tweet, email, and surf the Internet.  You can also get lost going somewhere and find the correct place by using a feature on your phone.  You don't need friends at all, because you can simply spend hours playing all kinds of games on your phone, say while sitting in the bus, or waiting somewhere.  And you have angry birds for company. And warriors with spears charging around. Or cars whizzing by at speed. Or even sticks, balls and squares floating around trying to fit in somewhere.

This is called being SMART.  For the phone , that is.  Small children as young as 2 an 3 years, fiddle with the parents' phones, and learn . Folks proudly say their kid is a whiz at using , say, the I-phone.   I have always wondered why they didn't call it the We-phone.  

SMART is when machines have IQ's instead of you.  In my childhood, folks celebrated IQ's. Intelligence Quotients. Then the EQ's happened. Emotional Quotients.

Sometimes I think we also need to have a  SQ  or Stupidity QuotientThe ability to make a stupid mistake yourself and laugh about it.  

If you grew up when I did,  and were faced with a SMART - alecky phone,  your SQ would be non trivial.  

I tried that recently in an august gathering of blogger types. Very few actually typed.  There were all these actions with hands and fingers, similar to what we do when confronted  with a worship thali with the lamps after a puja. A kind of virtual patting of air close to the screen and lateral moving of palms and fingers.  I advertised my immense SQ by looking for an ENTER key and loudly voicing my concern, when someone very kindly offered their phone to me for use during the meet sessions.

I guess, like today's SMART phones, which boast of  well rounded edges,  I also need to be a well rounded combination of IQ,EQ, and SQ.  Why am I so concerned ?

Because, thanks to blogging a post on a lumbering huge noisy banged up keyboard on a desktop,  I just learned about having won a SMART phone in a writing competition .  I await its arrival with a great amount of trepidation and anxiety. 

In the meanwhile, a friend , who went to school even earlier than I did , sent me a perfect image to set my mind at rest......



  1. First, love the senior cell phone! Congratulations about winning the SMART phone. How SMART are you? Great topic here. There are so many words whose meaning has changed over the years and the older I get the more I notice. I am about to change my phone to something new but to be honest I never use all its features at all. I will wait until you try your new one and you can let us know what you think of it. Thanks for such a smart post!

    1. Lilly, are you in Brisbane now ? )was just looking at a Feedjit log) :-) I too loved the senior phone . Thank you for such a wonderful SMART comment ! :-) Am avidly waiting for the actual phone to arrive ....

  2. Hahah the imagine is brilliant!!

    By the way, SMART also acquires a different definition when u enter a private MNC workplace. It coincides with your yearly appraisal and goals for each year. Goals are supposed to be S.M.A.R.T (Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Result-Based, Time-Based)

    1. Ashwathy, Thank you. And I was so hoping they wouldn't convert it to an acronym . According to the MNC's definition of SMART, even a pickpocket would qualify as smart. Simple, Measurable,Achievable,Resultbased , Timebased . Ha !:-)

  3. Yep, SMART has indeed undergone changes. I recently bought a smartphone to be able to access my emails. But, I still love to do my work sitting on my swanky system where I can use all my fingers to type :). Congratulations on winning your phone.

  4. Congratulations ! A smart phone for a smart lady indeed !! :)

  5. congratulations about winning the SMART phone and welcome to the new generation :)

  6. What a smart post! Congrats on winning the smart phone! I laughed imagining you to try and 'enter' on a smartphone. I like simple stuff too. Vinni gave me a blackberry but I have safely put it away and continue using my normal phone. the keys are all so small for me to type! Don't worry about learning to use the smartphone, your daughter will 'help' you out. :D

  7. Congrats and this is a wonderful post. Today, the kids are e-smart but, lack basic general knowledge.

  8. Congratulations for winning a "SMART" phone. Smart is something that everyone wants to become. This was really a pleasurable read and your have really written it well and the concept of "SMART" was awesome. I also loved your whole description from school till Smartphones and how the whole concept of "SMART' has been transformed to a phone. Thanks!