Home 2021 #AnEveningWithoutHashtags


by Rukmini Datta
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Illustration by Pradnya J

It happened one evening in Bombay. An evening like any other, by all reckoning. The young, the old, and those in between doing their regular evening things – walking on the seaside promenade, surviving the last meeting of the day, taking a train back home,  catching up with friends over a drink, preparing dinner, playing with friends. 

And then, it happened. In an instant and without any warning, all the mobile phones in the city disappeared. It was like they dissolved in thin air. Everything else remained the same. Apparently.

A group of teenagers was found on the seaside promenade, one of them with an outstretched arm while the rest pouted in unison, looking purposefully at the palm of the said arm. They held their pouts and their poses steady, conjuring up hashtags in  their heads for their social media posts – #friendsbythesea #byebyesun #sunsetmadness #eveningfuntime

Men and women who had jumped into the Andheri local at Churchgate to grab coveted seats, sat with earphones in their ears with the jack at the other end hanging loose. They stared at a 2-inch gap between their thumbs and index fingers. Some kept rolling up their thumbs over an empty palm. They could not stop.

At a bar in the city, colleagues who had caught up for a drink after work and a quick bite to eat, waited with the food and drinks on their tables. They placed them like an art installation and waited while one of them held her hands over them – thumbs and index fingers apart. Many hashtags were being thought up while she held up her hands – #drowningworkstress #happyhours #colleaguesatthepub #eveningafterwork

Back in many homes, banana bread and muffins were being pulled out of the oven. Kitchen counters were cleared of all the mess, and the fresh bakes were placed on pretty plates under concealed kitchen lights. The burnt bits were scraped off the bread and muffins. The fresh bakes looked perfect and absolutely ready – too hot to be eaten, but  just right to be photographed and posted with #bananabread #homemademuffin  #destresswithbaking #bakedathome

And then, it happened. In an instant and without any warning, all the mobile phones in the city disappeared. It was like they dissolved in thin air. Everything else remained the same. Apparently.

A couple sat with cups of tea in the living room of their apartment and stared at their palms, scrolling up the air with their thumbs. Their children were playing in the parking lot of the building, with at least a dozen others. They ran around, screaming, shouting,  laughing, and arguing, with not a care in the world.

Some people were driving back home from work in Uber taxis, the voice of Google Maps guiding them back on familiar streets. The taxi drivers lost control for a few seconds,  when the electronic voice disappeared, mid-sentence. They gained back control and told their passengers, “Aapko rasta maloom hoga. Bata dijiye.”

As the reality of the vanished mobile phones hit them, the group of friends by the sea sat down on the parapet, one of them pointing towards the mangrove. “Maine suna hai  mangroves are the only plants that can grow in saline water.” At the same time, the couple looked at their empty teacups and then at each other. “How was your day? Who did you meet? What are you working on these days?” 

At home, the baker picked up a slice of burnt banana bread and ate it. They may not make for a pretty picture but it is the burnt bits that were the tastiest. As the Andheri  local drew into Prabhadevi station, Sunita thought to herself, “I had seen a photo on  Facebook but never saw for myself that the board saying ‘Elphinstone Road’ now reads  ‘Prabhadevi’.” And, at the bar, colleagues looked at each other, picked up their drinks, and dug into the food before them. One of them turned to another and said, “Did you say you grew up in Raipur? Which school did you go to? My wife grew up there too.”

Meanwhile, the children in the parking lot continued playing, with no interruption or disruption. Nothing had changed for them. Their friends were right there, with them.  They could touch them, feel them, talk to them, push them, race them. They were here and now. Without any hashtags or pretty pictures. 

They say, if you listened very closely that evening, you would be able to hear the sound of sighing. Sighs of relief of a million hands, fingers and thumbs. 

Just imagine an evening like that. Imagine, even as you scroll with your thumb to the end of this piece.

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