I hadn’t realised how indispensable SMS had become until the government imposed a ceiling on text messages recently. The difficulty I faced due to the disruption was nothing compared to the trauma faced by people who fled their homes in panic, fuelled by texts that contained threats and warnings. Even so, the curbs on text messages snapped the even tenor of my daily existence in a very significant way.
As part of a routine that hasn’t changed for 10 years, my day would start at 5 am with the arrival of a greeting in my inbox; an SMS from my mother. Typically, the message would contain a shloka from whichever Sanskrit hymn or epic she happened to be reading at that point in time, accompanied by a translation in English laboriously typed out by her on her ancient Nokia handset. While the message would be steeped in wisdom (and some mom-style pontification), it would also indirectly convey to me the fact that she had woken up on time and finished her pranayama and yoga moves to the accompaniment of music from some devotional TV channel. The SMS would mean that she had fixed herself a ‘tumbler’ of filter coffee and was headed for her morning walk.
How could I deduce so much from a mere text message that did not even say so? My mother is a creature of habit and any variation in routine would invariably rate a special mention. The arrival of a simple shloka would mean that all is ‘as usual’. On her return from the park, she would invariably text me newsy updates. A cousin delivered twins, a great-aunt found refuge at the lotus feet of the lord, a neighbour’s dog barked all night or that it rained in Bangalore till 3 am. Sometimes there would be news of milestones achieved by her other daughter or her grandchild (my niece) with whom she resides. Often, she would draw my attention to newspaper articles she thought would interest me, or send a proverb meant to inspire and encourage.
When such maternal missives suddenly stopped arriving, I telephoned her to find out why. Sheepishly, she confessed that she had been sending those verses/proverbs not only to me but also to a dozen other people-close friends and favourite nephews or nieces. Thus, she surmised, her daily texts qualified as ‘bulk’ SMS that might have been treated as “ban-able by the government”, as she put it. I was impressed. I began seeing my mother in a new light. She had really made the most of available technology to nurture relationships with enthusiasm and creativity.
What I did not miss were messages selling me plots in Faridabad or persistent suggestions that I enrol in a personality development course. The agency that saw in me a potential customer of their escort service — ‘both male and female’, was also effectively silenced. ‘Mind the gap’, they say on the London Underground — and so I did, by telephoning my mother everyday to check on her and exchange those interesting titbits that keep the mother-daughter relationship going.