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That Stupid Thing

My name is … ah ! who cares about my name in the Chennai city holding more than 7.5 million individuals, including the yesterday born grandson of my friend, Srinivasan. Even the one day old cute kid whose feeble cry from his teeth free empty mouth making his rosy cheeks red, will not care to talk to me one day. From the one day old kid to people who have only one day left to live in this funny world, nobody wants to know about me. The 7.5 million individuals in this Chennai city, some percentage of whom I witness daily, some other percentage I witness rarely and the majority I never witness, to me appears like 7.5 million individual societies. All because of that stupid thing.

The basic principle of human society is to interact and cherish relationship. Every individual influences the society. The society is run by the response of each individual to the responses of other individuals. Everything was fine till few years back, until the stupid thing made its presence in the peaceful Chennai. From dawn to dusk, even while sleeping, people need only one thing, that stupid thing, that hand-held stupid mobile phone. Nowadays, I’m not seeing people around; I just see 7.5 million mobile phones roaming around holding human beings with it. Earlier, 8 out of 10 people I encounter used to greet me, but now; sometimes even I wonder whether I exist or not.

That day I really thought the guy has gone insane; what else you think about someone who talks and laughs by himself without anyone around in the middle of the road. Another day, when I went to milk booth, the person filling the decade old broken chair inside the cash counter asked, “ya tell me” and I replied “two packets”.

He started shouting, “I don’t care who you are and let me see how you get it”. I was stunned and twisted my complexly entangled brain cells to think what the problem in buying two packets of milk is. Thank god! Only then I realized that he was talking-to someone through his mobile phone. Everybody everywhere is busy talking to someone nowhere in mobile phones. The whole world looks like a lunatic asylum where every individual confines to himself, an aberration in the society. But, since the whole society is behaving like infinite individual societies, only I look like an aberration for them. The black colour, grey colour and many other coloured plastic boxes with rubber buttons and a small screen have eaten away all my friends and relatives from me.

It’s long since I’ve talked even to my daughter. Normally when she comes home, she complains about the weather and also grieves that she had to walk a long distance. Compressing her big eyes, her cute little face wrinkles when she complains. I love to see that expression and often tease her for that. She’s indeed beautiful and like her mom, she’s a chatter box. During dinner, we sit together and we listen to her while she narrates incident by incident since that morning. Whether it is a quarrel with her classmate or an appreciation from her teacher, her food won’t digest until she completes the whole days stuff. The practice continued for years even after her joining the job, but until recently. Nowadays, she enters answering a call, later get hooked up in another call and responds to some other call even while dinner. No more narration from her and no more wrinkles over her face. All because of that stupid mobile phone. I feel like puking over it.

The worst part occurs during my daily travel to office. I use electric train for commuting to office. It’s a half an hour journey and I used to enjoy it very much. We, the co-passengers had formed our own local groups. The first one of the group will reserve seats for people boarding in subsequent stations. Our group mostly comprised of old men, Mr.Sankaran whose pot belly hits the passenger in opposite seat, the bald headed Balakrishnan who have never missed the sandal scratch on his forehead, a proud symbol which he used to portray that he is a keralite and Shyam, smart and handsome, an odd man in our group used to discuss about varied topics.

Though we had never been to each others houses, we knew all of our relatives, functions at our homes and everything personal about us. Similarly, there were other groups; those who play cards and makes lot of noise, who sing film songs using compartment walls as drums, who stands on foot board to look around girls entering each station and so on. Basically, people of similar interests got together and enjoy. But, now, everything has changed. People are idle. Though they travel together throughout the year, they don’t even know each other’s names. They are always busy talking to someone or other in their stupid mobile phones.

Another group of people sit idle like Egyptian mummies. Yes, they are listening to FM radio in mobile phones. They sway gently by the cradle vibration of the train and I think they liked it as the swaying is sometimes coherent with the rhythm of the music that stupid mobile phone vomits. Once, I sat in between these swaying people, suddenly when one started talking to some stranger. He didn’t care about his neighbours and was revealing all his personal details. From his monotonous conversation (believe me, its killing to listen only one half of conversation), I understood that he is a diamond merchant and is going to Europe next week. Had my dad not inculcated some good value system, I could have used the free info to own few diamonds. If I go on listening to such numerous one sided conversations, I’m sure I will go mad one day. Already, my wife complains that my behaviour is awkward.

But one relief is that this train trauma will last only this Thursday. Tired of this old man who still uses his secretary to check email, my company thought that they should get rid of me at the earliest opportunity possible. Though I would have loved to work for some more years to avoid being with my wife for the whole day, the very thought of everyday train journey made me love my wife.

The most awaited Thursday also came at last. Since nursery school, I’ve been a part of many farewells. Every farewell is associated with mixed emotions, a grief of losing the past and excitement of entering the future, like a cup of water after eating gooseberry, a sourness mixed with sweetness. Relishing the past memories and expecting the future moments, I was experiencing the last official 30 minutes train journey. The train stopped in between at local stations and the railway platforms exchanged passengers and all the passengers with stupid mobile phones. A lady clad in a bright yellow saree reflecting the morning mood was standing near the entrance, perhaps for getting down in the next station.

The breeze, which remains still at railway station, gushes with heavy force when the train moves blowing the lady’s yellow saree exposing her waist. Sweat dropped from her first waist tire to the second, slowly, very slowly like the collaboration of left over water droplets on an automobile windscreen after rain. But this sweat is an irritating feeling, especially in places like Chennai, the sea water provides enough liquor for the sun that the atmosphere is always fully drunk unable to suck even one drop of sweat from us leaving all the salt laden sweat to trip over clothes making us embarrassed with white salt patches.

Everyday, I face the same problem. My loving wife always have something or the other to tell me in the last two minutes before I leave and I have to run from the railway gate to platform within 30 seconds at least to push myself into the last compartment in font of the white uniformed black skinned guard. When I force myself to equilibrium holding the passenger rails, I gasp severely accompanied by wild oscillation of my drooping belly like the bellows of a harmonium. My heart beats rapidly pumping through all possible blood vessels and spit sweat on my forehead and neck. The sweat collects and flows down through the side and reaches my earlobes. I feel tickled, try to wipe it off and I drop my bag in the attempt.

The pot belly compels me to get my trousers stitched with the only known tailor Manickam as there is no standard size that fits my disfigured physique. While gasping, my belly pushes my trousers and the white lining peeps out. I can’t see it as y belly prevents, but can realize it by the teasing half-lipped smile from some teenage girls opposite to me.

Being the last day, I started early and escaped the embarrassment of white lining from the teenagers. But, today the teenagers were replaced by the lady inside yellow saree. She was deeply involved in her mobile phone that she was not even aware or didn’t care to be aware of her waist getting exposed. But some college guys who were swaying to the music inside the stupid mobile phone were fully aware of the lady’s exposed waist. I felt sick, but soon forgot about it as I entered my office.

Evening, my office staff hosted a farewell for my retirement day. All of us assembled in the conference hall and for the first time, I took the leading chair in the dais. Most of the people gathered 5 minutes before the scheduled time. Perhaps, the aroma of cutlet behind the dais might have attracted them. We heard some unheard music when one of the guys excused himself with his mobile saying, “hello, ya Ravi speaking”. Soon, one more lady followed the same way. By now, Ravi had come and Gopal received a call. I’m sure it is his fiancée. Despite his dark skin, he blushed; but I had been to his engagement and I personally feel that she’s just an ordinary looking female and doesn’t deserve so much blushing. Within 5 minutes, everyone around me was talking to someone who is not there then and I stood aloof experiencing the unfathomable truth of my loneliness. Under some strange permutation all the potential friends of the gathering were silent for five minutes and hence could finish my farewell.

First our G.M spoke and was followed by many others, my bosses, peers and subordinates. As a custom, they all spoke nice about me. I felt proud despite my complete knowledge that all these are alive only for few more minutes and will vanish like Cinderella’s chariot the moment I get out of the dais. Before that moment, my G.M garlanded me and gave me a nicely packed gift box wrapped in satin ribbon. I was so delighted, especially at the packing and satin ribbon. With so much of excitation, I slowly opened the box. There was a small greeting card signed by all saying “you will be with us always”. I slowly took the greeting card and found a … god !... the stupid mobile phone.

Contributing Story Teller  K.Hariharan, I was born in 1982 in southern tip of India, Kanyakumari district. I'm an engineer by Profession. I work for "Ashok Leyland", second largest Indian commercial vehicle manufacturers. I'm currently residing in Chennai, southern part of India. [email protected]

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