The Human Touch

Routine, I so miss my routine. I never thought I would say this about my dull boring routine. Pulling myself out of bed every morning, rushing through the morning chores – glancing through the newspaper over a cup of tea, watering plants, hurriedly deciding what to wear, gulping down some breakfast and then scurrying off to work. Hurrying back home after a tiring day, hoping to catch up with reading or do some writing but ending up watching TV or Netflix, going to bed with a guilty feeling of not having done enough, and then blaming the dull routine for sapping my creative juices. I have so often wished I could break free of this routine to focus on more creative pursuits or things that I considered more productive intellectually and emotionally.

Just loitering with Poonam & Joy

But now with the routine missing I am like a fish out of water, gasping for breath at times. I realize for the first time how much of my routine I have taken for granted – friendly faces of my colleagues greeting me every morning, chit chats over a cup of coffee, catching up with a friend in the evening, if I wished to. I have never been very social; you can call me selectively social at best. I have often chosen my company over a crowd. I have stayed at home over the weekend watching TV, reading a book or doing nothing. Though, over the years, I have made some good friends, developed deep bonds.

Selfie time with Sanchita

So, when the lockdown was announced, I didn’t think I would miss not having people around. A few weeks on my own, would give me time to do so much more, I optimistically thought. I am locked out alone, my family is in different cities, friends all over NCR. And yes, we are working from home, so I am connected with colleagues over Microsoft Teams, regular calls. I chat with family and friends every day over the phone or over a WhatsApp video call. That would suffice for a while, I had thought, but alas it’s so woefully lacking!

The social media that we have been so hooked to is getting on my nerves now. The endless posts on the virus, the lockdown, the efficacy of our political leaders. The social media pundits are pasting the walls with their advice or opinions, so keen to run the world from their laptops or handsets. The silly challenges that FB comes up with seem refreshing in comparison. The only good thing are the occasional humourous posts that make me laugh.

Hanging out with Chandana & Ray

The routine or choosing to follow the routine.  This lockdown has made it clear how much of that choice we have taken for granted. The human touch that came with the choice, be it a friendly nod or a deep conversation over a cup of coffee. For this lockdown has shown us nothing can replace the joy of being with another human being. No social media, or virtual platforms can replace the warmth of physical proximity. Social distancing, unavoidable though it is, comes with a heavy prize.

I do hope we remember this once this crisis is over, put our phones away when we are talking to somebody, take our minds of social media while we are having dinner with our family. For, being with the ones’ we love and care, is priceless!!

The art of saying it right!

Courtesy sites.psu.edu

Saying what you want to say. Being understood or perceived the way you would like to be. Therein lies the challenge of communication and it’s much more than mere words!

Elated Arjun after winning Draupadi in a Swayamvara returned home to the potter’s cottage where Pandavas were living disguised as Brahmins. Yudhisthir, the eldest brother called out to their mother who was cooking and said, “Mother, see what we have brought today.” Kunti, without looking up replied, “Whatever it is, share it amongst yourself.”

Another instance from Mahabharata, where Guru Dronacharya was wreaking havoc on Pandavas with his divine weapons. Arjuna, the only one who could hold him, refused to fight his Guru. Dronacharya’s only weakness was his son Aswathhama. Wily Krishna asked Bheema to kill an elephant with the same name and then convinced Yudhisthir to twist the truth, “Aswathhama hatha (and then he murmured) iti Narova Kunjarova (don’t know whether it’s man or elephant).”

Courtesy Pinterest

These are fairly well-known instances of miscommunication. While the first one is unintended, the second instance is carefully thought through and deliberated upon. In the first case, Yudhisthir assumed his mother would look up from her cooking before responding, while Kunti assumed it would just be alms or a wild animal that the bothers had hunted down. Thus, Draupadi ended up with five husbands. The second instance led to the victory of Pandavas in the battle of Kurukshetra. History is full of such instances.

Courtesy CartoonStock

In today’s context, where everyone has an opinion thanks to social media, and fake news or misinformation can be spread at the click of a button, communication has become even more challenging. It’s important to understand and be aware that communication is not just about what we say, it’s about how we say and to whom it is said. Expressions, body language, tone – everything forms part of the communication. Basis how the words are said or delivered, the listener or the audience comprehends them. The same words can be understood and interpreted differently by different audience, sometimes the interpretations may be very different from what the speaker or the writer intended it to be. Years ago, in English literature class, while we were critically analyzing Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ our Professor humorously quipped, ‘Keats probably never even imagined that his poem would be open to so many different interpretations.’

Courtesy Frank and Ernest: Miscoomunication Comic Strips

An innocent statement can cause lot of damage if not addressed to the right audience. Remember Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ tweet.  While ‘cattle class’ maybe a common enough jargon in the US, we sensitive Indians found it unacceptable. When you are a public figure or communicating in a public forum it is very important to understand and be aware of these sensitivities and nuances.

Today, technology has changed the whole game of communication. We live on social media where everybody is talking – expressing opinions, knowledge, wisdom or just showing off how cool their lives are. We often forget to listen, we forget the repercussions of the social media, the danger of exposing ourselves too much, of being interpreted in unfavorable manner. And what concerns me more is, while we are talking to everyone, we are forgetting to talk to the person next to us. Walking into a living room or a gathering where each person is focused on his phone or iPad is fairly common nowadays, especially among the younger lot.

I may be old fashioned, but nothing can replace a good chat with a friend over a cup of coffee or a heart to heart chat with a loved one. For it’s not just words, so much is said in between the words or even without. You can say so much just by looking into someone’s eyes or with a smile!!

Digitally DisConnected!

It’s a bold new world! Everything is within our reach. We have thousands of friends and followers from across the globe thanks to FB, Instagram, snapchat and similar social media platforms. We can chat for hours with friends, classmates or family sitting in different corners of the world on WhatsApp groups. Courtesy free video calls the sense of alienation owing to distance or geographical barrier has been almost eliminated. I can talk to my cousin in Hong Kong or my best friend in France, see what they are wearing or comment on their new hairstyles whenever I want (different time zone is the only challenge that we need to work around). No more long waits for a letter from a far-off land, no more worrying over huge telephone bills. And that’s not all, be it a new job, a new home or a perfect match you can find it all online. With these amazing digital platforms, we can make the world dance to our tune!

We are so dazed by the sudden onslaught of digital technology that we sometimes don’t have time for a real face-to-face conversation. According to a survey by Common Sense, a children’s and media advocacy organization, texting is the favorite mode of communication for US teens. And the lure of Netflix, smartphones and social media is so strong that young Brits are losing their libido, according to a new study.  And here comes the real shocker – a Malaysian teen committing suicide after conducting an Instagram poll, an overwhelming 69% prompted her to choose death.

We often hear or read about young girls or women being cheated or raped by lovers they found online. Recently, news of an affluent woman in her 50s being murdered by a man who she befriended on a certain dating app startled us. Sometimes we also come across men who have been taken for a ride of these platforms. We shake our heads upon reading such news, sometimes pass judgemental remarks, “How could she be so stupid/desperate?” “Dating at this age? She deserved it.” But a closer look will reveal that the problem is far deeper!

Image courtesy actonline.org

Social media is great, but overuse of these platforms is leading to psychological complications and mental health issues. Posting too many pictures on social media is leading to Narcissism. Social media anxiety disorder is impacting our relations and mental health. We so often come across annoying friends or relatives who can’t finish a sentence without checking their phones. Sometimes people conduct an entire conversation with their eyes on the phone or on the screen of their tablet. Yes, loss of eye contact, that’s another victim of the digital age. Eye contact or facial expression that is the key to connecting with another person, understanding what she/he is actually trying to communicate. With over-dependence on social media we are losing out on these personal nuances, and unwittingly building a hi-tech virtual and sometimes illusionary world around us. We are constantly connected with our virtual friends; we have no time to talk to our real ones. Sitting in the same room or lying on the same bed next to each other we are more concerned about the likes and thumbs up on social media platforms. We keep posting pictures of perfect family vacations, romantic holidays without realizing that we haven’t had a proper conversation with our family members or partners in months. We are so busy maintaining the virtual charade that we often don’t realize that our real world may be falling apart.  And ironically enough, we don’t really care about friends and followers on Facebook or Instagram, it’s all about putting up a better show!

By the time we realize that, haunted by self-induced isolation and loneliness we again seek refuge in social media, forgetting social media platforms are only the means and not the end. Loneliness makes us vulnerable; loneliness can make us do strange things. No wonder there are schemers, pranksters and sometimes dangerous criminals lurking in our supposedly perfect virtual world, luring us with their false identities and promises.

While Jack Ma’s 669 has got thumbs down is social media for being lewd, I would say sex is the key to happy conjugal relationships. It’s time we wake up to the real – physical intimacy, eye contact, a real face-to-face conversation!

Virtually Yours

There was a time, not so long ago, when a girl named Mohini lived in the real world. There was no internet, e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other virtual online platforms in that world. People visited each other, talked face to face, wrote letters and sometimes talked on the phone. Mohini loved her little real world. She visited her friends and relatives regularly, wrote frequently to those who lived in other cities, occasionally spoke to them over the phone.  Mohini loved writing – poetry, short stories, sometimes just her fleeting thoughts. In the journal next to her bedside table she would write every night before going to bed. Mohini’s family and friends encouraged her to write. She was often requested to read from her work in social gatherings, her poems were published in school magazines. Mohini hoped to publish her writings someday, reach a wider audience.

virtual world

                                                                                                     Image courtesy nyooz.com

Then one day the virtual world came into being. People talked to each other less and less, they chatted in WhatsApp groups or Facebook messenger or just Snapchatted. Letters, journals and family albums went out of vogue. People posted pictures, posts and messages in social media platforms. Orkut came and went. The generation moved from verbose Facebook, to picturesque Instagram, to funny & pictures only Snapchat. Of course, there’s professional LinkedIn and opinionated Twitter. The virtual media expanded our horizons, helped us connect with long lost friends. Soon we could connect and converse with people sitting in another end of the world in jiffy.

To Mohini, the virtual world presented the audience that she was aspiring for. She started posting her poems in Facebook and Instagram, created separate pages. The encouraging and sometimes the critical readers of the virtual world stimulated her. She connected with so many wonderful people, joined groups that helped her read and write better. She learnt about writing competitions and contests happening across the world.  “These are wonderful platforms that are taking me closer to my dreams,” she thought happily. She felt safe in the virtual world; it gave her the space to create without being judged.

But Mohini’s illusion of a safe and unprejudiced virtual world soon came crashing! The virtual world inherited all the vices and the prejudices of the real world, the wider audience only made things worse. There was no privacy anymore, once you posted something in the virtual world it was out there for everyone to see and comment on. Soon, there were virtual stalkers who terrified Mohini. She felt so harassed that she went off social media platforms for a while. She came back wiser and blocked her stalkers from all her social media sites. “Thank god for technology that allows us to block such vile people,” she sighed in relief.

Though the stalkers were gone the incessant pinging, messenger calls, uncomfortable questions irritated Mohini. “Are you single?”, “How old are you?” “Would you care to date an older man?”, “Madam what’s your idea of love?”, “Can I have your number?” etc. etc. Though there are separate platforms for dating and match making, citizens of the virtual world just didn’t seem to realize the difference. The virtual world evolved and grew so fast that virtual citizens probably failed to realize that this world too is governed by etiquette, as much as the real world.

For Mohini the virtual world is exciting albeit its draw backs and irritants. She valued the friendships and associations she made in the virtual media platforms and decided to share her reflections with her virtual friends…

Dear friends,

I am glad we connected virtually! We have shared so much and learnt from each other’s experiences. I read your wonderful poems and short stories, learnt about new things, visited places I never knew existed. Your fresh perspectives and views inspired me. You are my wise audience you who help me write better!

But sometimes we forget that the virtual world is like our drawing room. We showcase what we are comfortable sharing, so let’s not peek into each other’s bedrooms. Let’s respect privacy and boundaries and make this journey enjoyable and meaningful!

Virtually yours,

Mohini