“Beta, do you want a Barbie doll or a smartphone for your birthday?” an indulgent, sari-clad woman, asked her four-year-old niece. Aunt and niece were part of an entourage that had boarded the train at Currey Road station, after their darshan at Lalbaugcha Raja. Everyone was in a good mood. After all, it’s no mean feat to negotiate queues and crowds to seek the elephant god’s blessings at this sought-after destination.
We were curious to hear the little girl’s reply to her aunt. “Smartphone!” she exclaimed, in a second, her wide-eyed expression driving home the thrill of receiving such a gift. The girl’s mother smiled on, and the group continued to plan the birthday that was just a few days away. But the idea of receiving a cell phone had got the girl in a cute little jig; never mind the crowds that looked on endearingly. That exchange was merely a reflection of how middle-class India – of which the local train, represents a sizeable, ideal platform for this observation. This trend is more obvious as one gauges the extent to everyone has gotten hooked on to this palm-sized wonder toy. We looked around the compartment, and there was further validation.
At one end, a mother and her friend are too busy to chat or engage with their children (five and six-year-olds); what do they do? Simple. Shove their cell phones towards the impatient duo, instructing them to “play games” on it. This has become a common sight, for a while now. In fact, and about this, we’ve written about before, the levels of volume in the women’s compartment at least, seem to have actually fallen to some extent because everyone (and their grandmother) seems to be obsessed with this gadget.
We scan further. Two collegians sitting opposite me seem to be really thick. But instead of chatting with each other, they prefer to plug into their earphones, and exchange giggly glances and chuckles, from time to time, perhaps sharing a few Whatsapp messages. It’s an intriguing study in social behaviour.
As the train enters Kurla station, a group of flight pursers board the train. All of a sudden, the haute-ness quotient soars. Despite their long shifts, they appear fresh as daisies. One of them decides to dab a bit of makeup. Out comes the smartphone to the rescue. Not the good old oval-shaped hand mirror. Alas! It used to be an integral element, a binding factor for every woman - from the bangle-seller to the boutique-owner, the eunuch to the call centre executive. Not anymore. After all, the smartphone didn’t earn its title purely for male-centric indulgences.
This revolution was inevitable. And what better place than Mumbai’s local trains to watch this get played out with increasing obsession. Barbie and co. are passe.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day