Thank You, Next: Today’s Relationships and Gadgets Aren’t Made to Last

POV

Thank You, Next: Today’s Relationships and Gadgets Aren’t Made to Last

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

W

hen dad sold off our first family car, my mother cried. It’s not that my father had gone bankrupt. It was the car’s imminent departure that set off the waterworks. My mom has an innate talent for growing attached to anything she has ever owned – animate and inanimate. The fact that the car was second-hand, had a cigarette burn on the front seat, would start at will and stop without warning causing distress, embarrassment, and traffic jams, didn’t matter to her at all. We had many a Good Samaritan coming to our rescue, helping us out of sticky situations, back when Delhi still had some nice people.

She even had a name for it – Padmini. The last time I saw her cry this much was when she saw my report card.

Our first colour television, a Sony, lasted almost 25 years. Its images had become blurry, the controls cranky, but my parents refused to let go of it.

Like many from her generation, mom refused to give up on things well past their best-by dates and relevance. When we bought something for the house, it was meant to last a lifetime irrespective of its willingness and capability to live up to our expectations. Repairmen were like family who would walk in and out of the house with their tool box. Over countless cups of tea they would lay the entrails of the ailing refrigerator open and dissect it. A nip here, a tuck there, and the refrigerator would groan back to life amid loud cheers. Yay! No more curdled milk for breakfast. It was only when they’d shake their head slowly and say, “Inko dawa nahin, dua kee zaroorat hai,” would we start preparing for its funeral, with my ma’s wailing as background music.

Since we had yet to start confusing our wants with needs, a television, fridge, mixer, and an air-conditioner (if you were feeling super posh) completed the picture of a prosperous household. And they were far from technological marvels.

Household appliances were not mere purchases for my parents’ generation. They were emotional investments. You didn’t give up on them just because they had a bad day, threw a tantrum, and could be replaced with a pretty young thing beckoning at you from the shop window. You cherished them like a family member despite their annoying eccentricities. Blocking someone from your life just because they idolised Nathuram Godse was not yet an option.

Those were the days when we’d still have to step out of the house to entertain ourselves. Shopping and eating out was reserved for special occasions. Our Sunday evenings were devoted to our TV, which mostly responded to chappal therapy. Kids were their parents’ remote controls and ads were watched with much glee, not merely tolerated.

Buying a new appliance was a terribly important life event. It was given a reception befitting a bride. Ululation, conch shells, neighbours gathering to welcome our new member, me doing a tiny jig behind the curtains, mithai that was only a week old being distributed… The brand-new TV was then promptly given a lacy veil, usually in gaudy pink or ghastly yellow to protect it from the evil eye of envious friends and relatives. The sticker announcing its two-and-a-half features was firmly left in its place and often adorned the crown of our favourite TV characters.

Since we had yet to start confusing our wants with needs, a television, fridge, mixer, and an air-conditioner (if you were feeling super posh) completed the picture of a prosperous household. And they were far from technological marvels.

Household appliances were not mere purchases for my parents’ generation. They were emotional investments.

Now that I have a household of my own to run, the gadgets have multiplied, look space-agey, and have a baffling number of features and buttons. By the time we have figured all of them out, it’s time to move on to a newer version of the gadget and start all over again. I can remove lint in a jiffy, order my TV to search for a show, and place my cup of tea on the warmer lest it get cold. I get cooled, warmed, and entertained at the click of a button.

But the lifetime bond is a thing of the past. Interestingly this extends to our relationships as well.

Relationships like gadgets have become disposable and last as long as our last whim.

The other day when I realised our washing machine has been with us for over six years, I grew so alarmed that I walked into the kitchen and decided to bake a cake in my multi-utility cooking range. When I discovered it also has a grill that I haven’t touched since the day we bought it, I became even more agitated. To calm myself down, I promptly went online and ordered a wall-clock that looks like a painting. Only when you stare it intently does it throw up its hands in despair and start showing the time.

My dishwasher is making funny rumbling sounds and I start wondering whether I should call the helpline and risk numerous visits by the technician or simply order a new one instead.

In this age of plenty where household gadgets and appliances occupy more space than in a home than family members, the first casualty is patience. We spend much of our money on conveniences that are meant to free up our time and declutter our lives, yet we always feel pressed for time. When my mum demands to know why I don’t call her more often, I become exasperated and accuse her of not trying to understand how busy my life is.

Relationships like gadgets have become disposable and last as long as our last whim.

We have little tolerance for disruptions and would rather spend our time and energy on the new and exciting. Why should I stick to a cranky piece that demands constant attention when there’s a sleeker, more seductive version in the market? Especially when there’s a Tinder for household utilities – Amazon.

We yell at drivers who drive slowly, start gnashing our teeth when a webpage takes too long to load, snort with impatience if our Uber takes more than 10 minutes to arrive, and are quick to show displeasure all around. With everyone seeking instant gratification, patience is on its way out, and so is thinking about long-term. It is this need for immediacy that drives our excessiveness.

This impatience has contaminated our relationships. We form opinions faster than it takes to cook Maggi and don’t shy away from expressing them. Interestingly we loathe people who extend the same treatment to us. We judge quickly, get offended even faster, and disengage with our friends for the flimsiest of reasons. It doesn’t help that the social media is full of quotations that goad us to cut out annoying people from our lives. And it’s scary how easily we get annoyed these days.

Maybe, happily ever after was just a lazy storyteller’s creation.

Who wants to put up with unpredictable humans, their unwarranted opinions about our lives, and the anxiety and introspection they trigger, when instead we can run home to the comforting whirr and predictability of technology that responds to our commands and appliances that are happy to be mute spectators to our lives, right?

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