Conference calls got us from ‘nuclear’ to ‘joint’
With conference calls, we are all magically in the same eco-system: we are talking, we are connected. And we have Covid to thank for this
During the lockdown and its aftermath, I (like most others) lost track of time: days blurred into weeks, weeks into months, and soon, before long, a year had gone by. Those days, it used to take me some time to rack my brains and remember when I’d last “seen” a primary component of my family that lives in Calcutta, comprising of my father, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece… people I’d normally “see” at least twice a year. My last trip to my (referred) hometown was in January 2020; there were promises made when I was leaving for the airport to catch a flight back in three-four, maybe five, months, and the homecoming party would continue in right earnest.
Then, of course, Covid played party pooper. It’s been almost two years now, and I haven’t been back. Worse, my brother and his family rarely get to see my dad, while living in the same city — and they live 3km away from where he is domiciled. It’s not negligence (before my bro is accused of being a bad son), it’s simply paranoia — from both sides, with my dad being more stridently paranoid. Nobody, it appears, is in touch, face to face, with anyone, even now when the virus is in retreat mode: sundry uncles, aunts, cousins etc who once inhabited robust, talkative eco-systems have been relegated to a waiting room in statis.
It was at the beginning of the lockdown that my brother formulated a plan. The Conference Call. Many people talk about it, and I had a vague idea what it meant, but had never tried it. “You call me, I’ll put the call on speaker phone so my wife and daughter can be in surround sound mode, and then I’ll call Baba — all of us can confer.”
We could have done video calls, but my father had issues about downloading ‘those kinds of’ apps; someone told him, on WhatsApp, they are a security hazard, and neither my brother or I have the bandwidth to convince him otherwise. “It’s come on WhatsApp, it cannot be fake,” he had started, and we immediately withdrew and let him have his way.
So, we started the conference calls once every three evenings — they would go on for a good hour, at times an hour and a half, there’d be laughter, merriment, trips down memory lane, insane amounts of family gossip, and detailed articulations of food menus of breakfast, lunch, dinner, even if you’d had 2-minute noodles (“How did you make it interesting? Did you try melting Amul cheese into the mix, and finishing it off with a dollop of butter?”). Just the kind of stuff you’d be talking about while having chai and pakodas on a rainy afternoon. The conference calls, I realised, may actually have upped the game. Here’s why: whenever you are visiting family, it’s a pain getting everyone in the same space, under the same roof — it usually calls for great coordination. With conference calls, we are all magically in the same eco-system: we are talking, connected.
The offshoot — or downside, take your pick — is none of us in the core group enjoy speaking to each other one-on-one anymore… At any rate, not as much as we used to. Two of us speaking on a ‘nuclear’ line invariably have at least one of us saying, “Let’s discuss this when we have the conference call later”, because it’s a way of being a ‘joint’ family again.
Only last week, my brother and his family went on a super sanitised weekend getaway; our weekend conference call didn’t materialise. I spoke to my father for five minutes and figured we didn’t have much to speak of — other than the slender thread of “How was your day?”. The rest of the chatter, the meat of matters big and small, we decided we’ll thrash out when The Family conferred — together — in a couple of days, when the rest of them would be back in the connected fold.
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