Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXIII No. 19, January 16-31, 2024

Let me know if you need any hepatitis

-- by Ranjitha Ashok

No – not a misprint.

That’s exactly the message your phone sent out in your name, replacing your word — ‘help’ -with this offer of an inflamed liver.

Honestly, you’ve had it with this over-smart gizmo, whose tiny, elf-ishly mischievous keyboard thinks it knows better than you.

Like changing ‘Suma’ to ‘Mumma’. Being of an age where there is a definite disconnect between thought and action, you miss the mistake, tap the deadly blue arrow… great — you have now called someone a couple of decades younger than you ‘Mother’, resulting in a frost-filled ‘hello’ at this year’s Deepavali bash.

‘Fir’ for ‘for’, ‘if’ for ‘of’…young users will doubtless shrug. For them, proper grammar and spellings in transient chatting are irrelevant. But for us ‘old school’ types, it’s all very teeth-on-edge, (especially when you can still hear Miss Stephen’s raspy voice through scarlet lipstick going: ‘What is this nonsense, child?’ while flinging your grammar notebook across a classroom.)

Talk about severe ‘Blue-arrow-Blues’, and for the record, your daughter’s name is Vani, NOT VANILLA!

Back in the mid ‘70s, there was this song that sometimes played on the radio. (That’s right…when dinosaurs roamed the earth.)

‘Stop the world and let me off, I’m tired of goin’ ‘round ‘n’ ‘round…’ These plaintive words were sung mournfully by a musician whose name you have completely forgotten (well, it has been nearly five decades –- horrors!).

But if you ran into that singer today, you’d probably pat his/her shoulder in an I-hear-you sort of way.

You wouldn’t mind taking a break from today’s world yourself.

Too much to learn, re-learn and re-configure for comfort.

Take this obsession for passwords. Why does everything need a password? Who are you? Alladin?

If you have over-used your birthday, or 1-2-3-4, or run out of children and grandchildren’s names to use, you are forced to get inventive, only to later wonder what twisted trick your brain was pulling on you when you came up with these ghastly combinations?

And after all that – your regularly used password gets declined.

‘But I used it just yesterday, you jackass, and you were fine with it.’ You holler at a screen that stays cold, unresponsive, even a touch contemptuous.

And not a human in sight to shake a fist at.

Have you noticed OTP is an anagram for Oh-The-Pressure?

The OTP drops, the seconds are ticking, you can’t find your glasses; or you’ve entered the number in the wrong sequence; or, not realising you have used the wrong card, you keep waiting for the OTP, which now pops up on your spouse’s phone, currently on the other side of the world, which probably means it’s midnight, plus you have not given him any right to information regarding your purchases.

All this for something you probably don’t even need.

You know what causes instant paralysis in many senior citizens?

The words: ‘Online Payments’.

Now there’s a nightmare if you like.

The other day, you had to order a cake for a friend.

So, you call up this Flavour-of-the-Season Cake Place.

First, a recorded message with a distinctly transatlantic twang assails your ears. Throws you a bit, especially since you know that the shop in the heart of Mylapore is run by a certain Maami who is as gifted with global bakery as she is with vadams and vathals, bless her.

Meanwhile, the twang assures you that your call is very important to them, but since all the staffers are currently busy attending to other customers, you will receive a call-back in about half an hour.

You go ‘Ada che!’ and try again.

The twanging returns. Same message.

Again…and again…after a while, you begin to see this disembodied voice as a friend with whom you can share your secret sorrows …and wonder if you need counselling.

Finally, you get through.

You place the order.

You are told that in order for the order to be taken seriously, you have to send in the money by ‘Something-Pay’.

Except you don’t know how to do that.

‘A friend of mine is coming by that way. She’ll pay and pick it up.’ You say, under the impression that’s a reasonable alternative.

Pause.

Then, ‘No, ma’m. Can you do a ‘thingummy-transfer’?

‘Huh?’ is your only response.

You try to reason –- for God’s sake, little girl, a real-live human being will appear at your counter with something called ‘actual money’, and she will pay and pick up…see?

Simple.

‘No, ma’am, order must be registered. Also, we don’t offer COD.’

‘I wanted cake, not fish.’

‘Eh? No, Ma’am…cash on delivery.’

After a great deal of back and forth-ing, the young voice, sounding increasingly exhausted, agrees to hand over said cake to your person, but now asks for ‘ID, cell number, and photo if possible’.

You try to imagine what your friend’s reaction will be when told that her face and cell number have been sent like a wanted poster to some bakery.

You try reasoning again. Look, the friend will mention your name. Like a password. (A touch of irony!). She’ll even whisper it out of the side of her mouth, if required, like a bad spy movie from the 70s. She’ll then sslliiiide over the cash secretively…you ssllliiide the cake back to her. See?

Meanwhile, you can’t help wondering who’s going to kidnap a cake that a bunch of senior citizens, who shouldn’t even be eating it, have ordered.

‘All I want is cake’, you finally break down over the phone. ‘One.Small.Cake. Can’t you see this is all too much? It’s elder abuse.’

Finally, she relents, ‘Ok, Ma’am.’

And a flowery message thanking you for your patronage pops up on your phone.

An hour later, your friend calls.

“I’m here at the patisserie.’ (Such a show-off. Even in school.) ‘They say no one placed any such order. Knew you’d mess up.’

You try to tell her you have proof of confirmation of order, but she isn’t listening.

And you swear an awful oath by the full moon that you’ll never eat cake from that shop ever again.

You know who still goes to shops?

A small tribe known as ‘Those Who Know Not How to Return Purchases’.

Seriously — just ‘being’ is getting tougher these days.

You still don’t know the name of the singer but have learnt that apparently this song has been around since the late 50s, long before the version you heard came along.

Which only proves there’s nothing new about feeling out of sync in a constantly changing world.

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