The sight of my ten-year old daughter comfortably settled on the sofa, a bowl of potato chips in one hand and the TV- remote-control device in the other and surfing her way through 30 channels in 15 minutes - was more than I could bear. It was time, I thought, that I should deliver a fatherly sermon on how lucky she was in having so many good things which, we of the earlier generation did not even dream of. Every parent in every generation has preached thus and I did not want to miss this opportunity.
So I stared her squarely in the eye and asked, "Do you realize, you techno-savvy brat, that you are thoroughly spoilt? Do you know that even when I was twice your age, I had just one channel to watch, that too black and white ?”
“ Just one channel to watch , the whole day?" she asked in amazement.
I had to correct her. “ Not the whole day. Doordarshan used to begin transmission only at 6.30 p.m and would wind up at 10.30 p.m. And they used to screen movies only on Saturdays”
“ What ! Just one channel and just for 4 hours. And just one movie a week. How did you manage to survive ? Surf the net?", she enquired, not unlike Marie Antionette wondering why the proletariat could not eat cake, if there was no bread.
“ There were no computers then, let alone the Internet.” I had to tick her off sharply.
“ Then just what did you do to spend your time ? Play games on your mobile phone ?”
“ There were no mobile phones then" I responded "and for good measure, no cordless phones. Not even phones with buttons. Phones those days came with a round dial. If you had to dial a number like 72345 you had to put your finger in the hole with the number 7 and turn the dial, wait for it to come back, then put your finger in the hole with the number 2 and so on. If the number was engaged you started all over again. “
“ And”, I continued, pre-empting the next question, “ there was only one type of car. The Ambassador. No Marutis, Hyundais or the Hondas. And no air-conditioning in the car. Not even music systems”
“ Appa, stop “ my daughter screamed out loud “ Don’t talk to me about the past. It makes me very sad. You people had nothing then. You had such a miserable life”.
At this point, I felt it prudent to inject a more cheerful note into the proceedings.
“ You know,” I told her, “25 years from now, you are going to have a similar conversation with your daughter. You are going to show her some of the photographs that we took last week and she is going to stare at them disbelievingly. She is going to find your dress bizarre and your hairstyle incredibly funny. She will ask you why you needed to wear this thingy called spectacles, as nobody in her generation would be using them. As a matter of fact, she would want to know why one needed to have photos printed on paper, as kids of that era will be living in a paperless world.”
I went on, “ She will stare in wonder if you described to her the TV set, the computer and the mobile phone that you have today. She will be shocked that people living in the past had to struggle with such primitive and bulky stuff. In her time, all these functions would be integrated in a single compact device attached to the wrist .
“ She will ask you why you had to go to school. She will want you to explain why you did not have the automated self-learning studios then. Were you so poor when you were a child that you could not afford these basic necessities ?”
“But, not everything that you have today will look bad to her. She will long for the fast cars that we have today. By the time she is old enough to drive, the world would have run out of oil and she would be going around in a slow, solar-powered vehicle….”
I would have continued in this vein for some more time, but at this point, my daughter interrupted me, “ Appa, stop. Don’t talk to me about the future. It is too scary”.
That was the end of the conversation.
“The past is dead. No point in dwelling on it. The future is unborn. No point in worrying about it. The present is a gift. Make the most of it”, I muttered to myself philosophically, mulling over the lesson that my daughter had just taught me.