Do you remember those times when you wrote hand written letters and waited in eager anticipation to receive a reply in your actual mail box? I date myself when I write this that I am one of those people who checked my mailbox in the mid nineties everyday with the thrill of ‘maybe today there will be an aerogram’. These days checking the mailbox mostly involves a slight irritation at how many pieces of junk mail are going to the recyclable. It was not so about 24 years ago. We wrote letters home. We received letters from home. When I first came to United States in the mid nineties, at least twice every week, I gathered my new life in a new country and poured it on several pages of paper, documenting new sights and new experiences. I sealed the envelope, attached stamps and mailed them to my parents with a wistful sigh. In return, I received a white and blue aerogram bringing with it news from my home across the sea. It told me my cat had new kittens, the Krishnachura tree just outside our bedroom is full of new blooms, the little girl next door got into college, a cousin got engaged. It asked me when I was coming home. It told me I was loved, I was missed.
Along with the letters, there was a monthly phone call. I regularly went to Indian grocery store to buy calling cards to call home. I had to dial in what seemed like a thousand digits, the mechanical voice gave directions to next steps, after which I heard the home phone ring….all the way in Kolkata. Ma or Baba picked up the phone, their voice tinged with excitement and anticipation: “HELLO?”
Then came emails, followed by Facebook, followed by Skype calls, followed by Whatsapp video calls. I can call every day if I want. I don’t, due to the time difference, my work schedule and……Ma’s tv serial timing. Many moons ago, when I was naive about the importance of the television serials, I would call sometime in the morning (my time) thinking I will catch them sipping evening tea in the living room, ideal time for exchange of news and let’s face it……some satisfying, old fashioned, harmless gossip. I would call and the TV would be roaring in the background. Ma would answer yet her eyes would be shifty, glancing up towards the TV, responding with a very polite yet clear, “not now, get lost, we are just at the good part of the show” tone. I would say, “Why don’t you turn the TV down?” She would do it, but still the conversation would be half-hearted or she would say, “Here’s your baba, talk to your baba.” and hand over the phone.
After many such thwarted attempts at conversation, I realized what exactly was happening. Loknath Baba (tv serial), Rani Rashmoni (yet another tv serial) were going through important transformations in their lives (not really, these shows are masterful about dragging on and on) and ma was missing those milestones if I called at wrong time. I wizened up. Now I check my time and call right before the tv serials start or after all the shows have ended. If I call then, the tone is so different. It is a “tell me all about your life” tone. It is “I now have all the time in the world” tone.
There is, however, an exception to this rule. Instead of me, if Sahana calls her, she pays more attention to her grand daughter. Most days, Sahana’s call gets precedence over ongoing tv drama. She gets the “I am so glad to talk to you” tone. In Ma’s own words, “the interest is sweeter than the principal” (ashol er cheye shud misti). I am kind of evil. I make Sahana call and then I jump in to talk before the interest wanes and television takes over. 🙂