E Age & me… The story of a socially networked Indian lady in her sixties by Rekha Karmakar

(This is the story of a sixty plus Indian woman, who was bewildered by the ‘ brave new world’ of computers and of finally how she felt when she first tasted the joys of blogging, social networking and internet search after her retirement)

After I passed out my Higher Secondary Examination, my father suggested that I should take up English as the subject of my Honors course saying it was ‘the king’s subject/’Rajar subject’ as its demand would never go down in the job market and would also open up a whole new world to me.

He proved himself right. After I passed out my Master’s, the demand for the subject was at its peak and we had no difficulty in finding a job.

Having worked in Delhi for a few years, I went abroad when I got married.

We came back to Calcutta in the eighties and found that the scenario had changed quite a lot. The CPM Government in West Bengal had discarded the teaching of English in schools at the primary stage. It was to be taught only from class VI. The vogue was for everything ’deshi’/’native’ including languages. I became quite apprehensive of the status of English, the so called ‘king’s subject’ in India.

In the eighties, the general Indian public was quite unaware of a device called ’computer’. It was Hongkong Bank in Calcutta which first thought of bringing in computers for office work. All the labour unions, with the support of the government, were up in arms. They vigorously opposed the introduction of computers fearing it would cause sacking of employees as most of the work would be done by computers. Hongkong Bank, however, did not give up and computers were brought inside the office at night. Thus computers were introduced for the first time in West Bengal by Hongkong Bank. Selected employees were chosen for training.

India has come a long way after that. Not only that, the labour unions and the government also regretted their previous move and admitted that it was a ‘historic mistake’.

The telephones, in the eighties, were in a sorry state too. They used to be dead for months together. Typewriters (mostly Remington) ruled in offices with their ’Taka tak Taka tak’ sound.

In the nineties, ’computers’ became a more familiar work. Private concerns were mostly computerized. People came to know about ‘call centres’ where you could earn quite a lot of money even with moderate qualifications, though the office hours were a bit erratic. China and India started competing for the ‘American pie of outsourcing’. India was in a better position because of its knowledge of English. Demand for the English language started being felt again as it was an indispensable part of computer operation.

Computer training schools started coming up. Everyone felt that the next generation could not do without computer knowledge.

We, the parents and the guardians of the new generation, however, felt that computer knowledge was only for the next generation and that we did not need it anyway. What fools we were! We did not imagine that in a few decades, computers would engulf all aspects of our lives across all generations.

In the early nineties, people started hearing about mobiles too. Very few people in Calcutta used mobiles at that time. Even if they had one they jealously guarded their mobile numbers as there were charges for incoming as well as outgoing calls. After a while, the simple mobile became multifunctional. Very soon all and sundry started using mobile.

At the turn of the century, computers became quite popular. Even PSU offices and PSU banks started computerizing their units. It was a mammoth task to train the personnel as many of them were on the other side of forty.

As usual, the whole process faced teething problems. Mistakes after mistakes were followed by rectifications. In the recent years, however, everything seems to have stabilized.

Cyber cafés have come up in every locality. A ’man Friday’ there book tickets, pays bills, fills up forms online with help of his computer. They do quite a brisk business as many people do not have computers at home or e-knowledge.

In the first decade of the twenty first century, I started being bombarded by volleys of words like log on, log out, menu, e-mail, fax, website, face book, twitter, Google plus, access, i-pad blogging, post and so many other words like these. I would often wonder which language it is! Is it the English that I learnt in my school and college days? Soon I felt that I was lagging behind. There was a divide, ‘a great divide’ between me and the younger generation. My curiosity did not evoke much response. It was as if to say ‘you will not understand it’. I resigned to my fate finding solace in the fact that many of my friends did not understand it too.

Then it was by chance that I started blogging, I mean to say ‘proxy blogging’, towards the end of December, 2010. It all started as a coincidence.

I had gone to Delhi that year after a gap of almost forty years as my younger son Sid was posted there. All my past memories of Delhi came rushing to me. I revisited my school, my college as well as the house where I had stayed last before leaving Delhi! I was thrilled, when my elder son I called me up from Mumbai, I probably conveyed some of my nostalgic feelings and excitement to him. He asked me to put down my experiences on paper. I did so and Sid sent the post to K by e-mail.

K posted my writing on his blog. All his readers were very supportive and encouraged me to write more. So I kept writing about my various experiences that I had abroad as well as in India on K’s blog as a ’guest blogger’. I cashed in on the popularity of my food blogger son K.

Blogging is a wonderful gift of the e-age. Previously one had to either publish a book or find a place in a magazine or a newspaper to see one’s writing in print - all of which were equally difficult. Now you can open your own blog and be sure of at least some readership. It allows you to express your feelings and thus it acts as a therapy of the mind.

Sid gifted me new mobile in 2011 which would enable me to access internet. Then both husband and wife started teaching me how to operate it and soon became flabbergasted with my inefficiency. However, I preserved and made a break through. On sending my first one line e-mail to son K, he wrote back, ‘welcome to the digital world’ .Thus it all started and I started accessing internet, send e-mails and even be on face book. Six months have passed and I have quite a nice time everyday fiddling with my toy i.e the mobile. But to be very frank, I find the mobile a bit inadequate now.

Accessing the internet has opened up a new world to me and has helped me in boosting my self-esteem. At this stage, you may say,’ you are speaking too much of yourself. My so and so uncle or aunt of your age is a computer wizard. It may be so. But I always like to go in my own pace as it saves me from a lot of heartburn as well as going ‘green’.

If you have got bored with my exuberance at accessing internet through my mobile, please dismiss it as the ‘babble’ of an old lady.

You, the young generation, do not realize how much the world has progressed in the communication sector in a matter of three decades. There was a time when if your dear one went out of station, you had to wait for days to receive a letter of his well being after receiving his ‘one line telegram’ on reaching.

But I cannot blame you for not realizing all these. When you are yourself getting churned in the cauldron, you do not feel the speed. It is for an outsider like me who can stand a bit far and notice how fast the wheel is moving.

All these talk about computers and internet will not be complete if I do not narrate my experiences that I had recently, when I visited the office of the internet search giant Google in Gurgaon.

Soy, Sid’s wife, is an employee of Google. She had been asking me for a long time to visit her office. So one fine morning, I landed up in her office. As I reached her office on the top floor, she pinned a ‘guest badge’ on my sari. Then we proceeded towards the canteen.

On my way, I could see from far rows and rows of computers in the work-station where many young people were working.

As I passed through the corridor, I noticed quite a few glass almirahs which were stacked with chocolates and fruit juices. Before going to the canteen, we stopped at a ‘break in area’ where the employees refresh themselves after working at a stretch for two to three hours. There was quite a few such ‘break in areas’ in the office.

I was amazed at what I saw inside the ‘break in area’. The racks were filled with different types of health drinks, bread, biscuits, and jars of almond, cashews and loads and loads of different types of chocolates.

Fruit juices, different types of tea bags, coffee machines were also in abundance. A microwave oven was there too. Apart from these, there were huge bananas, oranges etc in the food bowls kept by the side of the luxurious sofas. It seemed like a wonderland.

Then we went to the canteen. At that time, they were clearing the left over breakfast so that they could bring in food for lunch. The employees are given complimentary food as long as they stay in the office. There were different counters for different types of food e.g. Indian, Chinese, Thai etc. Not only that, there were also counters for ice-cream and Costa coffee. In another counter, there were heaps of cut fruits of different countries. It seemed like a land from the fairy tale where the walls of the houses are made of chocolate and pools are filled with milk and honey.

At about 1.p.m., the smart, young and lanky employees trooped in. I looked like a creature of the prehistoric age in my sari. I asked Soy how they managed to keep themselves so slim in spite of having such tempting food every day. She said that they were very wary of eating to maintain their weight and also because of work-pressure.

I had some lunch as well as they are allowed to treat guests occasionally. It was the life time experience of a person like me who had worked all her life in a completely different environment.

Please note that this is not a paid review of Google (Ha! Ha! - as if Google would engage a petty person like me to campaign for it).

So this is the saga of a sixty plus lady who is just a novice but is still trying to enjoy the newly found digital world as much as she can. My main problem with computers is that I cannot type long materials on it due to my shoulder pain. So I have to get all hand written posts typed from a cyber café, where I get innumerable typos as free gifts.

Please do spare a thought for your elders and initiate them into the digital world, if they show any interest, as my children have done.

Hundred years from now, I do not know to which height the communication sector will reach. My imagination does not stretch that much. The latest that I have heard of is the iBrain that has been fitted to the headband of physicist Stephen Hawking, so that it can interpret the brain signals of the paralyzed physicist. It is still in an experimental stage.

Sometimes I feel that the world may become paperless in a hundred years time. Everything will be digital. Paper, books, pens, pencils and erasers will be kept in the museum. The future generation will watch them with curiosity as we did when we saw the feather pens and ink pot stands of Charles Dickens in his house at Broadstairs , Kent in the U.K.

Let future take care of itself. My only wish is that all advancements should be used for the welfare of the mankind. Till then ‘good bye’.

Rekha Karmakar