As I go about like clockwork with the constant sequence of actions in life that calls itself routine, I hear the familiar ‘ping’ on the phone. As per norms, this should be Mother sending in her good morning message with one question that will quickly be followed by ten or more. Since there is no dedicated tone to indicate Mother’s message, this ‘ping’ could also be a message from a friend or the endless stream of messages from banking or business sectors.
In the days of yore, the midday cycle bell that announced the arrival of the postman was one Mother looked forward to and got us children racing one another to bring home heartfelt stories and messages transcribed in flowery handwriting that had travelled far inside sealed inlands and envelopes. If our postman was the bearer of the dreaded telegram, he waited until the seal was opened to unveil its brief contents. He offered his condolences if the news was bad, but good news ensured a cup of tea or a sweet and a tip. Mother was ready with a soothing glass of chilled lemonade or cool buttermilk in return for her precious letters during the gruelling summer. This was a time when red post boxes dotted every street, monthly to-do lists included a visit to the post office, when a drawer was dedicated to a neat collection of blue inland letters, envelopes and stamps, when the man/woman in his/her brown uniform trekked his/her way come rain or high water to deliver precious snippets of news from relatives and friends who lived far and beyond. A time when we poured our heart, vented our sorrows and shared our joys and woes on paper and when securing a government job was the final destination in every job seeker’s journey.
During my last vacation, when I accompanied Father to the post office that I had often frequented during my childhood, I noticed that the raging technological revolution had made little change to this government office. Aside from a few desktop computers, time had come to a halt inside this old building. Father introduced me to the smiling officer whom I recognised as the postman who had spent his younger days frequenting our home among many others, now his face lined with age, but his friendly smile untouched by time. With the decline of the ‘snail mail’, he said that they now dealt with speed post, register post, money order, life insurance, saving schemes and the likes.
With the advent of internet banking and communication at our fingertips, I wondered who would visit post offices. But Father did and so did his friends. With enough time in hand, the visit to the post office was a monthly undertaking for him where he spent the better part of the morning meeting friendly staff, making enquiries about their health and family, sometimes sharing a cup of tea and then updating himself on the schemes on offer while he trusted them with a small portion of his pension to be added to the recurring deposit that he believes will come in handy. He appeared to feel comfortable in a space that lacked the sparkle of commercial establishments, but even I could not deny that the genuine smile, respect and the willingness of these employees to connect and help their loyal customers outperformed the professionalism that the new establishments promised.
In a shrinking world where we are under the spell of technology locking our eyes with screens rather than humans and establishing firm relationships with devices rather than people, are we tunnelling our lives into the confines of our digital caves?
Even as we embrace the ease of the technological revolution and social networking, should not we exercise prudence in its use driving home the same to the generation that will follow us? Will robots be the most valuable companions of our future when we wake up from our digitally-induced dream? Will I, like my mother, wait hours to receive a single line of hope from my busy daughter?
Another ‘ping’ and I pick up the phone and smile at Mother’s messages, quickly typing in a sweet response. I know that my answer to one of her queries will balloon into a full-fledged conversation about everything.
But that is what makes a conversation with Mother so special.
Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai.