NEW AGE BABIES
My mother was married at 15. By 16, she had her first child, followed by 7 more at regular intervals of 3-4 years. All normal, healthy as horses.
When we were growing children, our mornings started like this – Amma would take a bath in cold tap water as soon as she got up, no matter what season or weather. Then she would draw a ‘kolam’ (rangoli) outside the door, even as she chanted some prayers.
Now would come the best part of the day – ‘KAAPI’. We would sleep or pretend to sleep until we heard the tinkering of stainless steel vessels and smelt the aroma of the coffee – the elixir of all normal Tamils. Only the older children, above 6 or so, would be allowed coffee. After this energizing drink in tumblers of certain sizes and shapes over which we had, over time and use, established proprietorial rights, we were charged for the day.
What about the under-6 of which we had one or two for almost 21 years? Amma would prepare some formula or cow’s milk, transfer it into an arc shaped glass bottle with nipples at both ends and the older children had to fix it in the mouth of the youngest one or two. Some kid would be able to hold it with both hands (like a ‘nadaswaram’ Appa would say); for another we had to hold it because if it slipped, the bottle would break. With some drooling and dripping, this chore would be over and these babies would be charged for another day of adventure – crawling, running, tearing newspapers, school books, chewing shoes and slippers, putting buttons or tamarind seeds into most convenient holes – mouth or nostrils.
Days were full of activity and excitement – playing, reading, seeking ghosts, quarrelling, hiding results from Appa, stealing sweetmeats from ‘dabbas’. When these days passed, we moved into jobs, marriage, parenthood – who knows?
But in one distinct area, as in many others, we could never match our parents’ achievements. Our generation could not or would not deliver more than one or two children. Our Appa, would dream of enrolling each of us in different classes – like music, painting, art, cricket, foreign languages – after all, he was only one short for the ‘navarasaas’! But we had to rotate one or two children into all these ‘rasaas’. So we ended up shuttling the one kid to various classes.
What happened to the coffee, the bottle? The coffee is still going strong. Sippers have replaced bottles. And to keep Amma’s tradition alive and the family growing – there is a baby being delivered every now and then. We start the day – there is an ordinary functional mobile phone. Its charger has a round pin. A smartphone with a flat pin. The laptop with its 3-pin. Then there is the broadband and the Wifi hotspot. When these get older, newer models take their place. All of them have to be attended to every morning even before we wish the people we live with. Then they have to be plugged in and charged for the day – like our young baby siblings of yore with their feeding bottles!
Most people cannot even go for a morning walk without a phone – the excuse being, listening to music. No wonder, the birds don’t chirp any more nor does the wind rustle. We look for groups, messages that tell us what to eat and drink, challenge our beliefs, introduce some new fundas everyday about health, science, religion everything. Information or misinformation is supported by photos and videos. We scroll, talk and laugh alone, like mad people.
“People who smile while they are alone used to be called insane, until we invented smartphones and social media.”
The children manage to get hold of some elder’s phone and read jokes, look at funny videos, listen to songs. I think after a couple of centuries, children will be born with mobile phones in place of ears! You sit at get-togethers, ride in a car with family or friends and no one looks at the other or the view – the phone occupies all our attention. Gone are those times when we talked even to unknown fellow passengers in buses and trains.
You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!”
― Dave Eggers
Some years ago when the first child was consulted about the planning of a sibling, he/she would ask for a pet. I think now they would ask for an i-phone. Or an Alexa. Or an Echo. The new age babies.