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An honest reply

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K S S Pillai
Till now I was under the impression that a large chunk of our population was illiterate or semi-literate, who would look lost at the mention of the word ‘online’. But the dread of a virus has changed everything suddenly, and a ‘new normal’ has come into existence.
The Bacchus worshippers now download Apps on their mobile phones to buy their favourite brand of liquor. Money transactions involving large amounts are being done online, and passengers book their tickets on their laptops and mobile phones.
The faithful dump their worries into the lap of their deity, office goers work, and school and college students attend classes in the comforts of their home. Ministers and officials hold meetings through video conferences.
Anchors of television shows conduct heated discussions with participants sitting miles apart. The ruling party celebrates its one year in office by holding ‘virtual rallies’. My grandson gets information on anything or anyone under the sun or beyond it with a few taps on his laptop, iPad, or mobile phone.
I was, therefore, confused when my grandson asked me, “Was your childhood better than ours, grandpa?”
Looking back, I struggle to find much that I would not gladly exchange with him. Like going to school barefooted through hot, sandy roads. Holding a banana leaf over the head in a downpour. Classrooms without fans, schools without proper toilets. Writing with a nib pen that had to be dipped in an inkpot, getting my clothes and hands smeared with ink.
The newspaper was the usual source of information about the happenings all over the world. Those with electric connections used to have a radio set that broadcast news twice a day. Weekly programme of film songs broadcast by the Radio Ceylon was eagerly awaited and there used to be a crowd in front of shops that blared the songs at the highest volume.
For entertainment, we had a cinema house in the village that screened black-and-white films. Since electricity was a new entrant and the supply was erratic, the cinema used to have a generator with crude oil as its fuel. There were only two shows and the end of the first one at 9.00 pm was announced by a drumbeat of about five minutes.
Though we lacked several other facilities available today, the present generation should be envious of us on many counts, too. We played games that required no expensive accessories on the open ground and the playmates often became lifelong friends. We came to school in whatever clothes we wore at home and outside and were not required to wear blazers, ties, and shoes even in the sweltering heat.
We ate the food prepared by our mothers and sisters using ingredients ground on a grinding stone and cooked over a wood-fired hearth. The rice we ate came from our paddy-fields and the cooking oil from the coconuts from our compounds. We bathed in the flowing waters of the nearby river and our hair-oil was home-made with medicinal herbs. We drank water drawn from our wells, rivers, and canals without ever getting sick on that account.
The only honest reply that I can give my grandson is, therefore, “Yes, and no.”
(The author is a retired professor of English. His articles have been published by The Kashmir Vision, The New Indian Express, The Deccan Herald, The Tribune, The Herald Goa, and elsewhere)


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