I got my first mobile phone in late 2003. I had resisted it for a good amount of time for no reason I can clearly explain - until finally my workmates begged me to buy one otherwise they would. Being a nice, middle-class girl, I succumbed to this threat. I mean, aisa bhi kya hai, I can buy my own phone, yaar!
Of course, after that I discovered all the various illicit pleasures of SMS — a form constantly on the verge of flirtatiousness — the supposed convenience of constant internet access. But, I also found myself frequently waiting for others and an unsettled day with people fixing time and place only at the last minute.
I also felt an odd tension about being so contactable and guilt if I wasn’t- it’s like I could never get lost and simply drift for a while. I was always on an invisible leash. I felt kind of… committed.
Then I bought this phone three years ago — but something was wrong with it. No one could hear me properly. I was informed that my voice sounded like it was wrapped in cotton wool. The sentence “I can’t make out what you are saying, Paro,” was said to me in every possible tone ranging from uncertainty to desperation to irritation.
Some people would be polite: “I’m sorry I can’t hear you too well, there must be something wrong with my phone.” I would be kameena: “I’ll call back?” The line would be no better of course, but they would be too embarrassed to say so.
But it wasn’t long before the threats began. One friend was tearful. “I feel like we’ve drifted apart. I think it’s because of your phone. Please change it!” she said. Others begged and pleaded but I didn’t even repair it, leave alone change it.
Why? I don’t know - I kind of liked being only semi-contactable. Maybe it was just an illusion, but I didn’t feel tethered, accountable and available to everyone — it was my foolish, minor but somehow meaningful rebellion, my striking back against the communication empire. Sure, I was still reachable — but there was a feeling of insubstantiality to it for the other person who was never sure what I had said.
Anytime I felt like a long chat I just spoke to a friend on my land phone. I even had dinner on Skype with some friends and we’d go through a bottle of wine and several friends’ reputations without sweaty ears.
I managed to put up this resistance for three years. It’s not a mean feat in this era. People would tear their hair trying to understand why - and I’d just say there was too much to choose from in the market now and I couldn’t figure it out. But I promised I would. I liked that feeling of insincerity too, what can I say?
Occasionally, I would even proclaim my plan to change the phone on Facebook and it would be met with cheering and suggestions. Of course, I never did.
Then, last week, I left the phone in an auto. I spent a whole weekend “temporarily disconnected”. On Monday, my cook, the housecleaning person, my sister and my friend in Delhi all said they had received calls from various people frantically searching for me. I should have felt important or guilty - but actually I just felt gleeful. Ah, the taste of blood.
Still haven’t got a new phone but my workmates are threatening to buy me one. Maybe the middle-class girl in me will succumb to this threat again. Or maybe, I’ll just call their bluff. I’m committing to nothing.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.