All's fair in love and tech wars

Alls fair in love and tech wars

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 6 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 7 Sep 2019, 9:16 AM

Like a murmuration of starlings swooping down the skies, people preyed on my handphone every time it squeaked a notification. That was about 10-15 years ago when we lived in Singapore, much before millennial apps had even been conceived. The only occasion the handphone let out a cry in those days was when an SMS or an email arrived. The use of a handphone was so minimal, still everyone in the family coveted mine like MacKenna's Gold.  
I was so naive I never bothered to switch my phone to mute. Every time a message landed, the phone would chime like a church bell and people from all corners of the house would come rushing, as if the building was on fire.
"Dad, you've got mail."
"Dad, you have a message."
Wifey, son, daughter and their visiting friends would all croon like rain birds while gliding past the owner of the phone to lay their hands on the gadget.
"That's Agnes from the office. Why does she message every time?" queries wifey, watching me out of the corner of her eye.
"That's Uncle Feroze from back home." Son sounds a tad disappointed, as if he was hoping to read something sleazy.
"That's your cousin from Sri Lanka. Aww, she remembers your birthday," shouts daughter, watching the play of shades on her mother's face.
It took a while for me to realise my life's an open book where people wrote and read whatever they wished. I realised the road to familial democracy never came my way. Everyone in the family owned a phone, as smart as mine. But I never snooped on their equipment. Neither did they let me. They all guarded their phones like the Kohinoor at the Tower of London. I felt a lack of congruence in what people preached and practised. I craved change. And the moment came when I once forgot to take my ATM card to work. After dinner with colleagues, I realised the card was with wifey and I mentioned that to the dinner crowd. They let out a scream.
"You mean you share your debit card with your wife?" Huatmay froze in her seat.
"Strange are the Indian ways," said Lilian as she paid my bill.
Over the next couple of days, they coached me on how a typical Chinese couple ran their family, which I found pragmatic in many ways. When a child is born, the first thing they do is to sign up for an endowment that would mature at the time of the child's tertiary education. The husband and wife would together contribute to the education fund. The rest of the family expenses are clearly compartmentalised, with the couple taking care of specific payments. In essence, everything is shared, except their debit card. "You take care of mortgage, I take care of the car EMI. You pay the water bill, I will do the power." If feminism espouses equal rights for men and women, rather than women's superiority, it is put to practice here in letter and spirit. Risk averse, the couple would both cling to their savings and their PIN. Who said 'Made in China' never works?
In no time, I borrowed a page from the Chinese guide book. After a mini civil war, my phone's number lock was activated. Others followed suit. No one craned their necks to read messages on other phones. Credit and debit card numbers were not shared. I made them understand the significance of personal space in life. The space to read, write, listen to music, savour a cup of coffee in solitude, and view the world in your own perspective. Live life on your own terms, I preached.
Life suddenly took on a whole new meaning. I left home on my off days early, chasing my dreams on my Suzuki chopper. I photographed life beneath the veneer of urban panoply, learned charcoal and oil, and joined wifey in her sitar class in the afternoon. We went bowling in the evening until our fingers ached, and partied at Ceylon Sports Club till midnight.
At the close of the day, we four were still able to cram into one queen-size bed and my daughter was still able to watch, with one eye shut, how her mother drew the unlock pattern on her device.

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