October 27, 2020

What Amma did and other pandemic stories -by Divya Sreedharan

This pandemic has brought in several changes in the way we live. Seniors living by themselves or with others in the family are grappling with new changes expected out of them. One of them includes learning to embrace technology to minimise dependence on humans.

Divya Sreedharan, a writer, mom with over 21 years’ experience working across newspapers, magazines and digital media, blogger and more talks about how her amma (mom) managed with her new world of technology, rather with her smartphone.

The blog is featured here on Mums and stories.

“Last week, my mother took her smartphone to a service centre. The phone has been acting up for a while. Probably because Amma, a 77-year-old retired English professor living in Kozhikode (Kerala), has been very active on social media recently. In fact, she is now on Instagram and already has 14 followers — some of whom sound extremely botlike and shady. Mind you, she is yet to post anything!

“I don’t know how I got on Instagram, I was just tapping away,” was her nonchalant response when I asked. She is also on Facebook and several WhatsApp groups. But like many people, she never deletes anything. And watches every single video and image she receives on these various social media platforms. Her phone storage is probably filled up. And the consequences have been, well, interesting. When Amma writes a WA message, the auto-correct function comes in to play. So, ‘Sathyan’ becomes ‘Satan’, for instance. If she writes ‘P’ (referring to Peanut, her half Indie-half-some-other-breed dog), the eventual message will say ‘Press’ or ‘Pres’ (don’t ask me why).

“It’s not me, the phone did it!”, is Amma’s outraged rejoinder when the puzzled recipients of her increasingly cryptic messages ask her what she meant to say.

Amma uses that phone — and her landline — well. As she lives on her own, the smartphone is her connection with the world. And with us, her daughters (I live in Bangalore and my older sister is in Dubai) and other loved ones. When the lockdown was announced, Amma managed to get veggies, fruits, meat, fish etc, by contacting a local shop owner. She would send him an order via WhatsApp and he would deliver it home the next day. That’s how she got through March, April and May.

So when Amma and her phone became inadvertent combatants, we, her daughters, tried to help. But calls with her trying to explain what to delete, how to delete, how to go to the gallery, how to tick this, tick that etc, left all parties exhausted and irritable.

“No, it’s not deleting!”

“No, I don’t know why its not happening.”

“No need to shout. Enough, it’s better if I do this myself!”

When Amma kept getting a ‘delete internal files’ message on her phone, we thought its best to let the professionals take over. “Maybe you should go to your local service centre,” I told her. And armed with mask and sanitiser, she went. She had to climb two flights of stairs to reach the centre (and this is a 77-year-old we’re talking about). My mother gave her phone to one of the personnel there. After a while, they gave it back to her saying it’s all okay now. They didn’t tell her what they did and it didn’t occur to her to ask, either. She paid the bill and left. But when she finally looked at her phone, she couldn’t see the WhatsApp icon. Completely flustered, she went back, climbing those two flights of stairs again.

“A man at the door stopped me. I told him that I couldn’t find WhatsApp on my phone. He said, yes, it’s been deleted.”

“Why did they delete it, Amma?”

“I don’t know.”

“But, didn’t you ask them?”

“I didn’t get a chance. They didn’t let me inside again, I told you that!”

So on and so forth. Increasingly irritable calls between Amma and us, her daughters followed. We all got very worked up. Amma said she would go back to the service centre. But given that she is in the high-risk category of the population, going out again did not seem like a good idea.

Usually every morning, around 6-6.30 am, I get an amusing and often, inscrutable, message from my mother. Cuppa in hand, I then spend half an hour trying to decipher it. But without WA on her phone, there was silence. Amma was cut off — from us, her local retirees’ group, her pension group, our family group…basically everything. In desperation, I called a college friend (who lives in Kozhikode). Without hesitation, my friend, Divya Radhakrishnan and her husband Anand, said they would help.

Last evening, they went to see my mother. They put WhatsApp back on her phone, showed her how to make and answer WA video calls. Most important, they gently and clearly explained various other technology-related thingummies (including how to do a Zoom meeting). Divya and Anand work with pre-schoolers and have infinite patience. Quite unlike Amma’s daughters! To cut a long story short, my friend Divya and Anand are really good teachers. And I have proof.

This morning my phone trilled. It was a WhatsApp video call from my mother. I couldn’t see Amma (her finger was on the camera), but I could hear her loud and clear…

The blog was first featured here

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