Terminal password

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on May 19, 2017

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This morning, while I am in Hartford in my sister’s house, Bins sends me a text message. All it says is, “Hi.” This is very odd. He never sends unsolicited text messages across the planet. “They cost ₹5!” he says. “They have to be worth it.” Plus it’s the middle of the night, in New Delhi.

So I text back. “Are you okay?” He responds, “No.” Followed by silence. Hmmm! Bins does not approve of phone calls because they “cost too much”. Which is certainly true. He has three antique cell phones. Each one has its own individual ringtone. He likes a physical keypad so he uses only the most basic models of phone. There’s no question of using WhatsApp or Skype on any of them. He can either text or talk and both cost too much so he does neither.

I call him, using my sister’s Reliance account. “What’s the matter?” I ask him. “I am dying,” he says, in the calm voice of a man who is alone in the house at 1am and knows that he won’t make the effort to get to a clinic. “I ate something terrible — I don’t know what — and now it’s trying to leave my body through all the exits. Even my nose!” Since there’s no point panicking, I am equally calm on my side of the planet. “What are you doing about it?” I want to know. “Have you called a doctor?” “No,” he says, in a pale, watery voice. “There’s no point, coz I can’t leave the house.” Why not? “Coz I can’t find my legs.”

My sister is in the same room as me and the phone is on speaker. Even though she retired from the medical profession years ago, her doctoring instincts kick in at once. She takes the phone from me and in a friendly-but-authoritative voice gets Bins to describe his symptoms in more grown-up terms. She determines that he is probably suffering from some form of food poisoning. She talks him through the medications he should take right away, what to take tomorrow, how to keep his spirits up and where to find his legs.

Fifteen minutes later she hands the phone back to me. Bins is his usual grumpy self. “I still feel awful,” he says, “but I might live.” I say I’m happy to hear that. “It’s extremely annoying for me to know that you’re dying when you’re too far away for me to be of any help!” He says I wouldn’t be of any help even if I were in the same room as him. This is true: my normal response to a medical crisis is to hope I’ll die before I need to deal with it. “Still,” I say. “How come you called me?”

“To tell you my email password so you can inform all my friends and read all my secrets,” he says. “But you didn’t actually give it to me,” I exclaim. “Next time,” he says.

Manjula Padmanabhan , author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on May 19, 2017
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