"I cringe when you flash that outdated contraption before my friends!" That was my older son, commenting on my mobile phone the other day.
His brother, back from boarding school on vacation, seconded him: "When you visit me at school, I pray your phone doesn't ring!"
I decided to replace the object of their ridicule and just got myself an i-phone. Well, it was like replacing a Hero bicycle with a Harley Davidson mobike. I'm still grappling with its formidable apps and complicated functions.
I don't consider myself a technophobe, but the exponential evolution of technology often leaves me flummoxed. My children find it hard to believe that things they take for granted today, such as cellphones and emails, were a novelty in India just two decades ago. Or that the TV set was not a household item just 25-30 years back.
What President Pranab Mukherjee said in his address to the nation on the eve of the last Republic Day rang true: In the last 60 years, India made more progress in many fields than it had done in the 600 years before that. And it will make more progress in the next 10 years than it did in the last 60!
Usually I don't set much store by the tall claims of our politicians but when I heard Mukherjee on the FM radio while driving home from office, it occurred to me that even transistor radio sets and landline phones were status symbols in our country just four decades ago.
It's not an Indian achievement per se . We didn't invent the technologies. We just leapfrogged and caught up with the West.
My father used to regale us with the story of his first encounter with a torchlight when he was a teenager seven decades ago. News reached our village that a Singapore returnee in a nearby town had brought a magic lamp called "battery" that could make you see objects "half a mile away" at night. My father's uncle and some other men in the village decided to have a look at the miracle lamp in action.
The town was some 30 km away, a considerable distance in those days. One fine afternoon, they hired a bullock cart and set out to the town. My father tagged along. On reaching there at dusk, they made enquiries about the "battery" owner and located the house.
Some 40-50 people were already present in the courtyard. At about 8 pm, when the surroundings were sufficiently dark, a middle-aged man appeared on the verandah with the wonder lamp in hand. He held the gleaming "battery" aloft for all to see.
After making sure that everyone in the courtyard had seen his proud possession, the Singapore returnee pointed the torch upward and pressed the switch. The crowd broke into an excited cheer as the silvery beam illuminated tree-tops. He moved the torch in a semi-circle three or four times and switched it off.
The show was over. The crowd dispersed, marvelling at the power of the great invention.
Today the torch, TV, radio and even computer are available in the cellphone you carry in your pocket. Yes, India has come a long way indeed!
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