My mother is now over eighty years old. And over the years she has changed from a hyper-active, super busy, doesn’t know how to relax person into a calm, cool and collected influence on all of us. This transformation for those who have known and lived with her is truly staggering. But some things never change. Like our struggle with keeping in touch with our mother over the distances that separate us.
My mother continues steadfastly in her absolute refusal to talk on the phone for more than a minute or two. It frustrates me no end, because being away in another country, the phone is really the only means to keep the communication channels open. Since she has never shown any interest in anything remotely technological, Skype or any other non-telephone based options are out of question too.
We had a land line installed in our home in the early 70s when the telecom revolution hit India. As with everything else, Appa had some definitive ideas on its use. “The phone is an emergency device, it is meant for people to call each other and let each other know they are safe. Using the phone for long conversations will not be tolerated.” was his mantra.
By the time I came on the scene, my sisters and mother were conditioned to this thinking. She would talk to her sister or brother or cousins rarely. The phone was a hot cake in her hand, to be dropped at the fastest pace possible! Her chosen method of communication with both sides of the family would be inland letters which she would sit once a month and write to every sibling and cousin. A lost art today.
By the time I was a teen, it was the early 90s. PCs and internet were making an appearance. Long conversations on the phone was “the thing”, as probably Whatsapp is for today’s generation. I have lost count of the times my father would yell and scream and refuse to let me talk on the phone for more than a few minutes, even if every single member of the family was present and accounted for. Even then, there was always “the unforeseen emergency” looming, waiting to strike. I would simply wait for everyone to fall asleep and then call my friends. To get a teen to do something, all you need to do is keep telling them not to! Looking back now, his insistence probably stemmed from being out of the country for six months in a year in the 60s, a time when the only way for him to tell my mother he was OK was a telegram once every few days.
Years went by, I grew up — well, in age at least. The 30s arrived, the 40s loomed. And I realized with a start, I could not have a long phone conversation either. While I was mulling over why my mother is the way she is, somehow I had also developed this total abhorrence to long phone calls. When I see people on the phone for minutes and hours on end, my eyebrows also raised themselves in judgement. When did this happen?!
The habits we develop as children are deeply entrenched, sometimes we do things without even realizing we are doing them.
Meanwhile, it remains a challenge among us sisters to see who keeps mom on the phone for the longest. Inevitably, in exactly 60 seconds of the conversation, mom will say, “Nothing else to report from your end, right? Shall I keep the phone?”
So we plan; we subconsciously and desperately think of things to share with her, things that will pique her interest and keep her on the phone just a little longer. And she does surprise us from time to time. We cherish those slightly longer conversations like precious gems. And we wait for that call every 1st of the month, her way of keeping in touch. Her way of letting us know she cares, even if she can’t bring herself to have a long enough conversation to actually say it.