Zooming in on family trouble: The perils of video calling

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 6 Oct 2022, 11:13 PM

I avoid video calls like the plague. And I find it disturbing whenever an ‘app’ call — say on Botim or GoChat (or, if I’m in India, WhatsApp) — comes my way that flashes “video call”. I immediately disconnect and call back on voice. So, here’s the thing: you need to be prepared for a video call because it’s a showcase. Of the aesthetics of where you are sitting or how you are looking, and it is, in short, hard work. Too much preparation.

For a long time, I had gotten away with not doing video calls with my family. I used to get asked — a lot — as to why instead of doing conference audio calls on a regular phone line, I don’t do video calls.

Question. “Don’t you want to see your folks?”

My answer: “Not really, I saw them in person a few months ago, when I visited them.”

Judgement: I am a sociopath.

Real reason: I am terrified. Of being asked stuff like why I am looking jaded. Or fat. Or thin. Or why there’s a messy sofa behind me. Or why I am yawning (and why I forgot to cover my mouth before I yawned).

Our ‘family con calls’ feature three sets of numbers. Mine. My father’s. My brother’s — where he’s joined, on speaker phone, by my sister-in-law and niece. The system worked well enough, though at times I got the impression that my sister-in-law and niece were mostly MIA (missing in action): they would say “Good morning” or “Good evening” and then go into silent mode. Maybe they were going into a different room and watching a movie, and popping back every 15 minutes to throw us a bone. Or so it seemed… but it may have seemed that way because my father does 90 per cent of the talking and doesn’t allow anyone else to say much.

Recently, something shifted within me, and I asked my brother (who decides on the time and date of our calls) — on my own accord — if we should do a video call instead.

He baulked. And I realised being a sociopath wasn’t just my calling card; it runs in the family. “Can we avoid a video call?” he beseeched. “I mean, we don’t want to be seen… it’s a bit uncomfortable, too many questions will be asked… by you know who…”

I insisted. So, we decided to meet halfway. My father and I would have our cameras on, my brother would have his off… and my father would be told there’s a problem with my brother’s camera.

A Zoom invite was sent out duly. I tidied up a space that would be my ‘calling area’, changed into cheerful clothes and applied lipstick… and after some time wasted on usual technical glitches, we connected. It was weird to see my brother’s screen blacked out while he claimed he (and his family) could see me and my father clearly. Then the fun started.

Father: “Why isn’t your camera on? I want to see you guys!”

Brother: “Er, our video option is not working…”

Father: “Get it fixed then.”

Brother: “Yes, I will, but I will need to go to the store, and I’ve been really busy with work…”

It’s been a few weeks since we moved to video calls, and even though it’s a little painful to “get ready” for the call, I’m finding the “white lies” banter — at least my brother feels it’s all white lies since there is no ill intent — between dad and bro extremely entertaining. I’m impressed how my brother has managed to pull through quite a few sessions with the “camera not working” excuse. Last heard, my father has offered to pick up the phone from my brother’s place and get it repaired.


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