A few weeks ago, I came here on a Monday, gushing about the experience of having no internet on a weekend spent with my friends. People may have been messaging me but I received none of the notifications. Have you ever experienced that kind of satisfaction?
Let me go back a little bit. This satisfaction is something that we, who are the generation that maintained romantic relationships over mobile phones, discovered about a decade ago. When I was in school (and even in the early days of my uni life), all my friends and I kept our dating lives a secret from our parents. I don't imagine that's the case today although, I wouldn't be surprised if it is.
Along with keeping our dating lives a secret from our parents came the nuisance of keeping it a secret from every family member, distant relative, family friend, and friend of a friend. Did I mention the gardener of the friend of a friend who also runs a grocery store right across the street from your school and secretly keeps an eye on you?
Because anyone could rat you out. Almost everyone used to be a bit too interested in "doing the right thing" and "avoiding a scandal" and "looking out" for their dear ones. Basically, everyone loved a good gossip. I imagine that's still the case today.
Having so many eyeballs on us teenagers meant that we never really "dated". It was too risky. Meeting your crush at a coffee shop was a very brave endeavor because God knows who you could run into there. That frenemy of your mom's who hasn't called in the past six years? Guess what her first course of action would be if she were to see you giggling over a cup of coffee with a random boy. That boy could be your cousin for all she knows but she will still call your mom and casually drop the news. If your mom confirms that the boy she saw was just a cousin, Frenemy Aunty would be a tad bit disappointed. If on the other hand, your mom hesitates for a millisecond before lying that she already knew about your whereabouts, Frenemy Aunty would have a long day of phone calls ahead of her. News travels fast, especially in the smaller towns.
And hence, we started dating on the phone. We would talk to our crushes for hours on end after everyone else in the house went to bed, and the phone companies soon picked up on this trend. They started offering twin sim-cards, "Airtel to Airtel free" schemes, unlimited free messaging and calling offers, the whole shebang. Those phone companies defined an entire generation of relationships in India. And I swear to God, I have complete and utter faith in the relationships that survived that era. Here's why:
When you just meet a person once in a few days, share a hot beverage and snacks with them over a few laughs and flirtatious comments, you mostly see the very best in that individual. Or at least, that's all you want to see, to begin with. It takes longer for them to reveal their true colours (and for you to notice them) and if you're unlucky, you've already moved in with them or left your favourite hoodie at their place and you have no idea how to deal with it. But when you literally have no way of hanging out with them except by texting and calling them almost every waking hour of every day, you get to know more about this person in one week than you would traditionally in a few months. And in a year, you pretty much learn how to read this person like an open book. Some, I agree, continue trying to read between the lines even when they know their attempts are futile but that has more to do with another aspect of our culture that I'd rather not get into now, except by saying that some kids grow up believing that they're like those animals that are supposed to mate for life (cayotes? swans? wolves? some type of penguins?). The others discover that they're human after all and can do whatever the fuck they want. I used to belong to the former category in my teenage years.
Anyway, these endless phone conversations opened up an entire area of growth for our relationships, areas we would have never ventured into had we been regular teenagers with raging hormones, making out in the backseat of another teenager's car. We virgins aged before our time and started having philosophical debates and endless future planning sessions with our "dates". Starting from the name of our future first born child to the date of our wedding, we had it all planned. And then, staying true to our mental age, we'd sit around bickering like old married couples. The fights were aplenty in these relationships in comparison to the more traditional ones, for reasons you might already be able to list on the palms of your hands - too much time spent talking to one another, being able to anticipate a counter-argument, generally getting bored/tired of each other.
And much like every other department of the relationship, anger, frustration, and sadness could also only be expressed with the aid of the medium that kept us all afloat - the good ol' mobile phone. So we'd hang up on each other mid-sentence, fling the trusty Nokia 1100s across the bed (because while we know it'll survive a fall from a building, we still can't afford to take risks because pocket money was always an issue), turn on the 'silent mode' or in extreme cases, switch off our phones.
The satisfaction our generation got from the knowledge that someone was attempting to desperately get in touch with us, and we had full control over ignoring those attempts...that's the satisfaction I mentioned in the first paragraph of this piece. I would be surprised if you were surprised to find out that it took me a thousand words to get to the point. Literally.
A friend of mine would keep her phone on 'silent' mode and leave it in her room as she went about her business, only to come back every once in a while to check the number of missed calls or messages from her boyfriend. The more, the merrier. Another friend found a spot in our college hostel where her phone received no signal. She made me call her phone while she placed it at this spot, and was satisfied by the greeting on the other side explaining that her phone was "out of coverage area". Her boyfriend was a little bit of a control freak and liked to receive detailed reports of her whereabouts at any given time. She knew how much an "out of coverage area" message would freak him out. Needless to say, they're not together anymore. And so on and so forth.
A lot of people I know from my generation are very addicted to this satisfaction of 'going off the grid' for a while, especially if times are hard. But that's not the reason why I did it the first time around. If you remember, misplacing a wallet and not recharging my phone was responsible for it. But I did it again this weekend, starting on Friday evening. And this time, I did it because I was simply happy. I was really satisfied with everything in my life and just wanted to sit around in that space, extending that feeling for some more time before another message or email distracted me. So on Friday evening, I put my phone in a new mode known to us today - the 'airplane mode' and slipped it into a back-pocket of Shane's messenger bag. The only reason I carried it with me was in case we needed to call an Uber or make a bank transfer and his phone was out of juice.
We walked to our friend's house on Friday evening to part-take in what has now become a tradition of playing board games. I was fully present there, playing, talking, eating, laughing, and not once looking at my phone. Not even absent-mindedly.
The next morning, I walked to a coffee shop, got the best coffee in town, walked hand in hand with Shane all the way to The Bromance's house, opened up my book and sat on his balcony, reading till it started drizzling and I had to move to the couch. I noticed how usually while reading a book, every time I rest my eyes, I automatically pick up my phone and check something. But this time around, because I had nothing to check, I finished a goddamn book in one sitting. I did rest my eyes from time to time, but that mostly involved a change in position or grabbing a cup of coffee.
I knew that in the meantime, messages were probably going ding-ding-ding on my phone but I didn't care. Because I was sure that if something earth shattering was happening out there, my near and dear could just call Shane. I told my parents and Meenal that I was on a sort of 'cleanse' and it was refreshing how everything else could just wait. Just wait for me to get to them in my own time. And guess what? The sun still rises in the East and sets in my bum.
So today is a very happy start to the week, y'all. It's crazy revisiting that old-timey feeling of satisfaction with a new, happy twist. We all need it from time to time, don't we?