A space odyssey

This has nothing in common with the famous Clarke novel and any resemblance is entirely your figment of imagination.

I suffer from what I call a space-o-phobia, which starts by me being uncomfortable at the beginning, quickly feeling miserable and ultimately in a rage, when my personal space is violated, ah that is a strong word, let me say, invaded by general junta.

We, Indians don’t understand the concept of space- literally or figuratively. Let me give you some everyday examples.

There are always people at the railway station, and airports and temples and parks and other places of common interest in India, who love to sit heavily down so close to you that you can tell what they ate last summer, and if you had a bio-sensor, you could tell their blood pressure by the stench of sweat. Sometimes they lean over you to reach the dustbin, ugh, I mean, it is ok you did not take a bath, or even that you consumed garlic bread, but the bench is 5 ft long and there are only three people sitting and mathematically we can leave at least 6 inches between when I end and where you begin. But they don’t get it even when you make the inward move-meant-to-move-away to avoid the edge of the bag they are holding on their knees, which is digging into my thighs without permission. And then a finger rummages inside a nostril, comes out and wipes itself on the bag, and I quickly get up and leave, running away from the invisible germs chasing me.

Then of course, our famous q culture, and we are clueless, ruthless and queue-less around it. In a bus q (which I haven’t tried for decades now), or an airport q (the most recent encounter) or a q in a washroom or a q to exit from a plane, the people behind stick to me actually, all their protruding parts trying to fit seamlessly into me and me moving forward instinctively only to be dissuaded by the vast bottom and the backpack of the person in front. Saying “excuse me” believing that it will miraculously create space in the mass of humanity, fails. My awkward motion to create some gap, only results in others moving forward to occupy all the space available, quite like the definition of gaseous material, which by the way, is available in abundance in all such locations, and you feel suffocated. No, keep your bosom away, pls and then being hit by the whack of the backpack being slung over the shoulder, or a boot stepping on my toe and my screams drowned in the giggles of the uncaring children around- don’t you have eyes at the back of your head, or a mouth that can mouth sorry! By the time I reach home, I feel quite like having passed through a sugarcane juicer.

I sometimes wish someone should invent a space-ial invisible magnetic wall around me, so as soon as an ass tries to come within the no-man’s-land, they get a shock of their lives and are forced to back off. I mean I do have a right to my personal space- including my bruised toe, and any attempt invasion should be legally prohibited. Maybe there can be a restraining order by default, nobody comes within 1 ft of another human being. Look at Norway, country with basic minimal set of people and abundance of personal space.

The third kind who make a space-tacle of themselves is the nosey public- typically the elderly auntie whose only interest in life is to ensure they get to see all the dirty linen before it is washed. They have to know when is x getting married, and when are y having their kid (with graphic details), what is my salary, where do I live, who ran away with whom and why am my travelling and more. And that is after I am trying to hide behind the large spectacles having suddenly developed an wild interest in a book, or pretending to be asleep and only responding in monosyllables. They would size me up and down and come to conclusion about how cheap my clothes are and what parlour I go to, and that my Gucci watch is a fake, quite like the robot reading my vital statistics – “Caucasian female, ht 160 cm…”, in that monotonous intonation. They are also the ones who always know why India played badly in the last match, or what Trump should do differently, what is Kareena doing these days and they insist on giving me all the gyan, uninvited and unwelcome. Come on, give me some space! Oh, why didn’t God say, Let there be space! I need air!

Another group of people who I find utterly cringeworthy are the ones who talk extra loud on the phone or listen to the infamous videos on speaker in public places and then laugh even louder. Gone are the days when you needed to shout on the phone. If you have detective instincts, you will soon know what goods the fellow sells and at what rate, why his son failed in exams, his wife is cooking brinjals tonight and that he loves Kapil jokes. I am really trying hard to respect your privacy; now do I need to wear earphones in order to avoid hearing you. I mean the damn thing was invented so you could listen to your shit while I listened to mine and the waves don’t cross each other’s path and mutual interference could be avoided. I am totally disinterested in the menu of the last wedding you attended or what is the latest in the soap- Nagiin.

Ah, at such times, I so prefer the younger generation, who with their headphones and heads down into their mobiles are fully occupied in a room full of strangers or family and our communication is limited to “food?” “yeah” and “all good?”. Likes are the most impersonal means of communication, you declare your presence and leave it at that, comments are good too, you can choose to respond if and when you want. And since people do not get their fingers up their noses on media, it is quite tolerable.  Sometimes cyber space is best crafted to get away and really get some space! I mean, I have heard from solid sources that giving “the look” makes people respect your space, but whenever I have tried that, it fails miserably and I normally get worse looks or the finger or a blasphemy back. That takes me into an introspective mode trying to determine why my looks don’t kill with a laser beam! Would getting into my shell work? Or do I need a space suit suitable for my space?

Cabbie Cabbie

8.15 pm. Land in Mumbai. And let me begin by bragging- from a business class flight, – you know what that means, you have your own bed in the sky and a clean toilet, so no cattle class woes .. (Did I say that too soon?)

8.40 pm. cleared immigration. Fun of coming in business class that you can move forward while the rest commoners have to toil through the long q.

8.45 pm. waiting for luggage.

9.15 pm. Still waiting for luggage.

9.30 pm. Continue waiting for luggage. 45 minutes now. Whatever happened to the “priority” tag? I thought I would get my luggage like this (with a flick of the finger) and head home.

9.45 pm. fuming now. What the blisters are they doing? The entire world is waiting, so it can’t be lost luggage. And my car must be here by now. I had told them to reach by 9.40 pm. There it comes, finally I can see the pink lace, earmarking my suitcase. (thank God, nobody here knew I came from the elitist class!)

9.45 pm. Call driver. Phone busy. Hmmm, why do I have multiple cabbie/ driver numbers?

9.46 pm. Call again. Are you Sharad? Driver says, Yes, but I am not coming, call the other number. What, why? I am in Pune, it is the other guy. Sigh.

9.47 pm. Call the other driver. Phone busy. What is with the phone busy!

9.48 pm. Call once again. Are you Kesar? No, I am Sandeep. Hain? From the cab service? Yes.

Me: where are you?

He: outside the airport.

Me: why aren’t you here?

He: I will come when you land.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. (you idiot)

He: oh ok, have you landed madam?

Me: No, I am calling from mid-flight. (sarcasm drooling)

He: ok, tell me when you have landed.

Me: I HAVE LANDED. Why aren’t you in the parking? By when will you reach?

He: Oh, you have landed madam, good, I will be there in 5 minutes. Please wait next to chai point.

10.00 pm. Call again. Phone busy.

10.01 pm. Call once again.

Me: where are you, 10 minutes gone!

He: coming madam, there is traffic. Will be there in 2 minutes. pls wait near chai point.

Me: !@#$%, Already there for past 10 minutes.

10.15 pm. Call twice again.

Me: It is half an hour! You still have no reached. You had to be here before 9.40.

He: coming madam. 2 minutes only.

10.30 pm. Call thrice again.

Me: 45 minutes over! What happened?

He: in parking madam, will just come and get you.

10.45 pm. Call fourth time again.

Me: will you come or not? It is 15 minutes past when you said you are in the parking.

He: coming madam.

10.50 pm. Call cabbie agency.

Me: your driver is really late. Been saying coming in 2 minutes for the past 45 minutes!

He: Let me check, madam. I will call you back.

Me: chai point beckoning. think maybe I will finally drink chai from chai point since driver will not come for another “2 minutes” at least. Me stands in queue.

10.55 pm.

He calling: madam, where are you?

Me: Where you told me. Chai point.

He: Can’t see you madam.

Me: look at me dancing away!!! (well not really)

Found each other. Gave him an earful. Heard some sorry madam’s. Too much traffic madams. Let us go, madam’s.

Reached the car. Key inserted in boot. Boot refuses to open. Trying left, right, press, pull, shove. Doesn’t work.

Me: forget the boot, we can keep suitcase inside. Let us go.

He:  madam, key is not coming out, I need the key to start the car!

Me: !@#$

Another 20 minutes of push, pull, shove, kick, press. Finally, he jumped on the car boot and jumped on it till, key finally came out. Phew. Let us go to Pune now please.

20 minutes later, car stopped on side.

11.15 pm.

He: Madam, can you give me 1000 rs now and rest when I drop you?

Me: Why the hell should I, you come an hour late and now you want money, will give only when I reach.

He: No madam, can’t go, I have to give some money to him, (pointing at the other guy,) then I can take you.

11.16 pm.

Me calling cabbie agency

Me: I am not giving him money; I am angry and frustrated.

He: madam, please give na. it is the same amount only, before or after, how does it matter?

Me: rubbing my eyes, what choice do I have at 11.15 in the night. Need to get home as I have meetings. Ok, take it.

We move on. He on the phone. Time noted- from about 11.30 pm till about 12.30 am. Man, the guy can talk. Who is on the other side, I wonder?

We reach the ghats. He keeps the phone down. And is suddenly enegrised. Accelerates from Starts 80 to 120 kmph. Twists and turns. I hold on for dear life.

We cross the ghats. He stops at mid-way.

1.45 pm.

He: Madam, 2 minutes only. Bathroom.

Me: ok.

1.20 pm. Half hour later, I see him standing and drinking chai. If he had to drink chai, I could have done that also, why did he say 2 minutes! @#$ People who make me miss chai are like…

1.25 pm. Driver back. Drives on at 140 kmph. Now I am scared. Is he angry because I showed my anger at Mumbai? Should I call the police?

Me: Bhaiya (in my sugar coated tone), can you pls drive slowly. There is no urgency.

He slows down. To 120 kmph.

After some time, he begins watching whatsapp videos while driving.

Me: !@#$. Which was worse, being on phone, or driving at 140 kmph, or watching videos?

Me: Bhaiya (sweetness personified), pls don’t watch videos while driving.

He complies. Finally lands me home.

2.30 am.

He: madam, see I got you home on time.

Me: (!@#$,) bhaiya, your driving is too rash, but then I am in no state to give you feedback.

5.30 am.

Heart palpitations subside. I drift off to sleep.

6.30 am.

Alarm rings. It is Monday morning. Work day begins.

Whatsit?

Once upon a time there used to be a drawing room. And you could have friends and relatives over, sometimes uninvited, who you did not want to spend time with, but as a matter of familial courtesy, you had no choice. You had to smile at their pjs, you had to listen to their gibberish and suitably respond and sometimes say a few nonsensical things as well. The only good thing was, after some time there was a surety that the pain would be over, the people would leave for their respective homes, and you could apply the Jhandu balm and relax.

And then came whatsapp. And all serenity and peace in life was suddenly over. You not only had people you don’t know in your whatsapp room, they could talk to you whenever they wanted, whatever they wanted and you had no choice in the matter. The only advantage was, they could not see your reaction and hear your blasphemy. And you could throw away your mobile, and no one would be wiser.

Once upon a time, when emails first came into being, we were warned about chain mails and waste and viruses that would come and occupy our inbox and which we should never open as it may corrupt the computer, never to forward and more technical stuff like that.

And then came whatsapp. And you started getting all the same junk email, photos, videos which have eternal lives and keep on circulating for ever and ever and create the kind of waste you have always been warned about. And it came right to your drawing room and you felt smothered. And then you took a deep breath and thought about exiting the group. And dream about how peaceful life would have been without technology.

What do you have when 100 odd people who barely know each other but have the common factor of having graduated from the same Alma mater, come together after 25 years. In the drawing room days, you would have but met but once on the 25th anniversary, exchanged addresses and phone numbers and then forgotten each other’s existence for another 25 years or till you had Alzheimer’s, whichever was later. But now, life no longer being the same, with technology being around, everyone comes together forever on a whatsapp group and exchange meaningless posts that no one reads and follows. Trust me, if the people who share all the “things you should do for world and inner peace and your health and religion” followed 1/10th of their own advise, the world would be an infinitely better place.

Let me bust the myth about whatsapp, that it is the biggest thing since somebody said, let there be Internet. After racking my brain hard enough, I could come up with three primary uses of the app. And you can decide the usefulness based on your own priorities. First to talk to you son away in another country without spending a farthing ( sorry, still in UK mode). Second when you are shopping and cannot figure out whether to buy dress 1 or 2 or 3 or all of them, sending the images to your spouse to hear the confirmation “buy all of them”, and hence not feeling guilty. And lastly, sending new year and Diwali greetings free of cost to the entire phone book. Diwali greetings remind me, I am rather offended by those who keep on sending greetings for all the obscure occasions that happen almost every day in India, and don’t identify themselves. Just a ” best wishes on Hanuman Jayanti for you and your family” and message is over. Now the number isn’t stored in your phonebook, and the image is that of a kid/ celebrity whom you can’t place. So the dilemma of the century, do you know this person, doesn’t he/ she know you have absolutely no interest in any jayantibhai, should you ask the person his name? After lot of internal struggle you decide to ask in a small voice, do I know you? And quickly the response comes, Guess who! I give up. It is easier to just say, same to you and leave it at that.

Now we have the power to read all the jokes, first in text format, then with loads of smileys around it, then attributed to Santa-Banta, then to Jack and Jill, then husband and wife, then Tom and Jerry, and then the images start, same joke presented visually,… I am frustrated, I see these jokes in my sleep, and wake up, all drenched in sweat and trembling, (yeah it is hot too). And in every forum, the same joke gets forwarded, your college group, school friends, office, Facebook, and all jokes/fun/ whatever forums you subscribe to. Whatever happened to my privacy, when someone adds me to a group, why doesn’t the fellow ask me if I am interested and a timeout taken as a no (saves me from the internal struggle between the ardent desire to say no and the social stigma attached to it).  No, by default you get added, and then if you want to opt out, you have the next social dilemma of what will people think? Can I leave without a message pop up. Will people think I am too stuck up and unfriendly. Oh forget it, let me be there, mute it and not read anything ever.

And then it had to add videos, so now all YouTube videos are shared, all karaoke self sung songs that should have been trashed in the first place are shared. If I want to see or listen to YouTube, or Ted, I know how to type http://www.youtube.com, or whatever, you don’t have to force me. And what do you do with the 500 odd messages that you get daily? My mobile battery goes for a six, all the space in my mobile isn’t enough to store everything. Just imagine if all this was on paper, how much of mind boggling waste would we be generating. The digital world is overloaded with virtual trash. There goes my swachh mobile.

It is also a psychological torture. Other than my neck-ache, which I have been getting since I was subscribed into a few groups, sometimes, in order to be deemed an active member, you bring yourself to write something and post it. And then if there is no response for the next 10 minutes, there is this mental cycle of oh God, did I send something wrong, has it been shared before, should I remove it, why isn’t anyone responding, was it in bad taste, how can all of the 100 people be busy simultaneously, shall I exit from the grip. Uff. And my Jhandu balm is back. And the worst thing is people know whether you have read something or not, it is no longer big brother watching, everyone is watching. So it becomes a must to at least put a smiley or thumbs up after every post, especially after your mobile keyboard has given up on you. ( by the way I am still confused, in my days, showing the thumb or tongue used to be considered a taunt, cheeky, ever since the cold drink and smiley world came into existence, it seems to have become a positive reinforcement, when did the world change?).