I was sitting at a road side tea stall on the outskirts of Mumbai, waiting for my favourite ‘cutting chai’. Thanks to the endless stream of messages, my phone was vibrating non-stop. My head was buried in my cell phone, deciphering the messages and my fingers were working at a furious pace. Oblivious to the real world outside and also to the fact that the battery was running very low, I continued tirelessly to keep up with the inflow of messages. And then Boom! My phone battery died. Feeling betrayed and angry, I desperately tried to kick it back to life, hoping against hope that it would have some reserve power similar to the reserve fuel in an automobile fuel tank. All in vain. With a clutter of thoughts in my mind and adrenaline rich restless fingers, I felt utterly frustrated. The inertia in me was so high that I felt like a moving train shown a red signal out of the blue. I slowly put my phone in my pocket and hesitantly looked up and around at the real world.
I saw the chai-wala offering his evening prayers with his eyes closed, head bowed in reverence, incense sticks in hand facing a small idol of Ganesha stationed at the edge of his stall. On the stove was a kettle full of boiling hot tea, vibrating and intermittently pumping out clouds of steam. A sudden thought struck me that this was the same sight which had prompted the invention of the first steam engine by James Watt.
Just next to the chai-walla was the chaat-wala, carrying out his routine of dipping and serving mouth watering pani puris to his customers, in a swift and easy manner, without losing count of the number of rounds being served. Topping it up with the sukha puris at the end of rounds without which the whole exercise would seem incomplete. Most notable among the crowd around him was a particular group, a mother and her three children, all aged between one and five. The youngest was in her arms and she was sharing her snack with her. The ones on ground were devouring the puris with a voracious appetite, the puris proving to be too big for their tiny mouths. This disproportion led to the spillage of the flavoured water onto their dress, footwear and the ground, leaving stains everywhere. The mother was visibly frustrated with the thoughts of extra efforts she would have to put into washing their soiled clothes, but at the same time was helpless and chose to remain silent seeing the joy on their faces. What else could satisfy a mother if not the smile on her child’s face? This scenario did bring a smile to my face and at the same time made me think about lack of birth spacing and population explosion in most parts of our country.
As I was deeply engrossed in thoughts, I was served my cutting chai, which I had ordered before my phone had got switched off. Rest of the surveillance of the real world was interspersed between sips of hot ginger flavoured cutting chai.
Across the road sat a fruit vendor, perched on the edge of his trolley filled with bananas and apples. I could see lot of women returning from their workplace after their daily shifts, exchanging words and smiles, having successfully finished yet another long and hard day at work. Few of them had stopped by the fruit trolley and were making their purchases after scanning each fruit carefully. As the apples were arranged in pyramids, a few apples fell out of the arrangement as lot of people were scanning the mound at the same time. These were the same apples which had landed on Newton’s head and led him to discover gravity.
Beside the fruit trolley was a fisherwoman cashing in on her hard earned catch of the day. Working with bare hands which were smeared with blood, she was effortlessly cleaning the fish as per the lone customer’s requirements. Lying beside her was a perfect partner, a dog, a Labrador look alike, instantly clearing away the parts which she had chopped off and discarded. A symbiotic relationship benefitting each other. Swatch Bharat and pet (also stomach) Pooja at the same time.
The smell of ginger flavoured cutting chai was intoxicating and the taste was unmatched. The cup was half full by this time. Next to the fisherwoman and last in line was a small food stall serving the trademark vada pav of Mumbai and hot jalebis. Surrounded by a group of youngsters, after their evening tutions, all were eagerly waiting to pounce on the fresh hot snacks. The stall owner had a tough time balancing the scales of demand and supply.
Towards the last few sips of the chai, my restlessness had completely settled down and was replaced by a calm. I shifted my focus from my immediate vicinity to a panoramic view of my surroundings. On my side of the road were slums where multiple houses and families were crammed up into extremely narrow spaces. Exactly opposite the slum, in stark contrast, was the eastern express highway where high end luxury cars were speeding off in a flash. Dividing these two extreme situations was just a 2 foot high metal fence and a small road about 10 metres wide. We always keep reminding ourselves that India has unity in diversity. No better place to display this diversity, atleast in the economic sense. Mumbai has world’s most expensive residential building, the Antillia, a 27 storied building with 600 in house staff, owned by the business tycoon Mukesh Ambani and just a few kilometres away you will encounter Asia’s biggest slum settlement, Dharavi. Both being numero uno in their own way.
This phase, sans my cell phone, which lasted only few minutes, brought in a sense of peace. The clutter of thoughts in my mind had died down. I was at ease. How important is this small act of observation? It definitely is important, very clearly demonstrated by examples of James Watt and Newton, who changed the history of mankind by making path breaking feats just as result of this simple act of observation and analysis.
With people preferring to look down at their phones and ignore the real world while walking, with people preferring to chat with people living miles away on WhatsApp rather than exchanging a few words with the person seated next to you while travelling, with I-pads being the most popular birthday gift for children, with smartphones being the easiest means of pacifying and distracting crying children, with real playgrounds being literally being replaced by virtual desktop play arenas, with dating apps being the latest way of finding your life partner, with obesity and myopia being the new norms, the world claims to have been closely knit into a small cocoon where everything is closely and deeply interconnected and yet we have never felt so far and disconnected/isolated.
My phone getting shut down was a blessing in disguise. I experienced for a few minutes, without any extra effort what I wouldn’t have been able to experience with the constant companionship of my smart phone for years. It made me lift my head and see the real world, the people, the nature and experience the same cosmic energy that runs through all of us. I could smell the fragrance in the air and see the sun set. I could feel the dying rays of the setting sun on my neck doused by the cool breeze. In contrast to the compelling need of checking my cell phone every few minutes for new messages, I felt free to breathe and enjoy. Recently I had come across a Facebook post which read; ” Cell phones are called so because we become trapped in them as prisoners, sooner or later”. Technology is a double edged sword. Beneficial as long as it is used judiciously. To be treated as a necessity rather than a luxury. The line dividing both is like thin ice over water. It is high time we open our eyes and realise this fact and start looking up, around and start talking to each other before we become slaves to virtual reality. I felt relaxed and rejuvenated and started my walk back home.
About the author : Dr.Akshay Prabhu is an alumnus of KMC Mangalore and is a well-acclaimed sportsperson alongside being a doctor. He reads a lot and has recently begun penning down his thoughts as well. A writer to look out for, with the advantage of having a wide-spread and unique perspective of things.
Edited by : Sreya Banerjee