My phone and I, we ride or die

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Of the variety of dependencies that we may develop during the course of our lives, the phone might be the most pervasive one given that it is tied up with so many aspects of our life.

If our phone were a child, it would really be enjoying the game of peek-a-boo we are constantly playing with it. | Pixabay

Probably for the fifth time this night, I check my phone. I haven’t got up to check. I steal a look only because I’ve got up.

When I am between sleep and wakefulness, it is especially magical to receive a mail. A gift delivered in your dream. A gift you had tried hard to dream up. The bold letters, in their assertiveness, could be bringing you an apology you had longed for, a peace that — “passeth” not but rather — comes from a comprehensive understanding. It could be a missive congratulating you upon your work, declaring you to be one of the chosen elect, an offspring of the moment in which an editor’s tired eyes lit up when they came to rest on your work. Or it could be rejection. Sad, regretful, but certain, decisive. Not vague, not shifting like the shapes in your dreams.

I look with derision at the promotional mails. In which what I get is just one of many facsimiles. In which I am an ID, not a name. What sort of a presumptuous sender believes that this nameless faceless mass at the receiving end would be roused by the sender’s personal cause, which they insist on making public? The worst part is that they do not know you but, even when sending mass mails, use your name to address you. Must be the kind of gaff they teach you in MBA: “Begin your mail with ‘Dear so-and so’, make it personal, make them feel you are looking at them with kindness and holding their hand with compassion...” Like somebody would be pathetic enough to fall for this sort of formula, a cheap attempt to trap the lonely.

Then I see the other messages, the ones that conspire to shame me. This time the sender is actually addressing collective concerns. An invite to participate in a protest, a signature petition. The fight matters to all of us. The win would benefit us all. But I remain on the periphery. Not afraid but unable to fight the ennui that comes from a sense of futility or monotony. Same enemy, same battle, same results. Same, same, same.

Then a eureka ping momentarily attracts me with news of the new. It works for a few moments. But as I read the first and last sentences of the article’s paragraphs, my cousin messages me. And because I cannot bear to be aware of that red flag on the message box I stop reading the piece and quick-type a reply. Then I erase it and start again with a capital letter because I don’t want him to get his grammar and spellings all wrong and abbreviated. I write full sentences and correct him again when in his reply he uses “its” for “it’s”.

By now there are word clots everywhere inside me. I breathe heavily and cough at times. I need to flow. I start typing an email to my partner to address a recent fight we had that had not been completely resolved the last time we spoke about it. A few months back, I would never have allowed it to remain unresolved. “Never go to bed angry” and all that.

But lately it has been taxing. Speaking, emoting, veering off the curb just when you’re about to be hugely misunderstood. Writing is better, calmer, more articulate. I cannot concentrate enough to write an essay but venting is better. I keep typing, trying to ignore the red squiggles underlining my words. When the it becomes too red, I take a break and correct all their spellings. It takes a little bit of effort to get back into the flow but I manage to do so and resume. I try to see that the words remain objective and untainted by the chaos within. I delete and edit. I can deceive one into believing that my piece of writing is the calculated hypothesis of a detached and composed mind. I can cleverly sheathe my vulnerability with sharp sarcasm. Besides, no handwriting here to expose the crests and troughs of my emotions.

I reply to another friend, in the form of a more honest sharing, a reaching-out for support rather than a defensive venting. What I am sending out is several months too late. What I want is immediate response. I cannot bear the sight of the waiting screen any longer.

I step out to meet a friend. I carry a book to read on the train. The battery is low and I need to contact her when I reach the meeting place, so I refrain from checking the phone unnecessarily. The phone slides into my bag. I keep feeling its compact slenderness from time to time to reassure myself that it has not been stolen. I read for twenty minutes. At the back of my mind I can imagine the closed white envelope on the home screen popping up with message alert bubbles showing the number 5, then 6, and then 7... I am so glad that I have been able to finish so many pages of the book that I feel emboldened to keep the phone at bay a bit longer and continue to focus on the book — perhaps if I am a good girl, the phone would reward me with a surprise mail at the end of the ride. The phone rings, and the fantasy is interrupted. Now I have to look at it. The friend has reached the place. I am late.

I get off the train, putting both book and phone back into the bag. I don’t want to look preoccupied and get groped. In the auto, the phone comes out once again and it is held tight in my hand so no biker can snatch it away. Three of the six flags on the mailbox unfurl to reveal themselves as mocking advertisements. In my red hot rage, I do not even look at the others till I report spam or phishing, or unsubscribe. One is a mass invite to some event. Two monosyllabic replies from my partner. He doesn’t like to see those yellow stars in his inbox, so in order to finish the job quickly — and to indicate he is engaged in the dialogue I have initiated — he throws a question back at me.

The phone has died, for good this time. So had God long back. And I tell myself I am better off without either of them. False hope-givers, kiddies’ toys both. Now the days would be peaceful and the nights uneventful. That said, it would be selfish of me to relinquish the phone completely, of course. One has to admit that the machine has its uses. And if I were to leave my broken phone un-fixed, it wouldn’t be fair to others who rely on me, for conversation, links, assistance.

I go to the repair shop. The job will take three hours, I am told, which would have been fine by me except I had been expecting my partner to call when he left office. The shopkeeper lends me a rudimentary handset as a temporary replacement. It has no Internet but I can make and receive calls. That was all I was looking for anyway. After all these years of cascading smartphone evolution, this device seems weirdly small in the palm of my hand but it delivers its promise of making and receiving calls. Thankfully, I have all my numbers stored in the SIM card — the only one I know by heart is my sister’s (it’s one of those easy ones, with a couple of digits repeated in a pattern).

When the original comes back I am grateful for it, for all the colours and the flags and the pings and the buzzes. There’s something to be said for the company of old friends.

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