Nana Ji’s computer still sits on the desk in my Nana-Nani’s home. Covered in a custom dust protector, the desktop monitor from the 90s sits untouched. The keyboard tray is jarred and the keyboard sits atop the table in a display of functionality. My aunt’s room, one where all the sisters and their families have stayed multiple times, is covered in hints of my grandfather. He left us unexpectedly leaving a void bigger than any of us could handle but like many other things, his computer has been left untouched.
On this old desktop, Nana Ji would devote many hours. After learning how to use the machine and learning about its little nuances like the many noises it would make as it switched on, or that it had to be connected to the generator when the lights went off, he became a pro at using his computer. The telephone/cable/internet employee became his friend, neatly noted in the important phone book that lay on the telephone table right next to Dentist, Chacha Ji and Daughter #1, 2, 3, 4 cell phone. While Nana Ji’s grandchildren and children lived a distance away, summer holidays and weekends were allocated to asking technical questions and becoming an efficient user, asking whoever was closest but also just confirming that he was in fact doing the best he could on his new toys.
Back then, before social media, email and phone tided us all over. Nana Ji wrote emails with subjects like “Home News”, “Mail from home” and “Noida news”. His emails were detailed, well thought-through and affectionate. Every email was personalized for each member of the family, from the youngest to the oldest, he made sure each of our names was listed in the “Dears” greeting, going in descending order of age. He wrote little paragraphs for each family unit, taking note of who was studying for exams or who’s husband was traveling or who’s favorite dish had been cooked in the kitchen that day. His emails were peppered with philosophical musings and morals such as studying and working hard to overcome all obstacles, do exercise to ward off stress and stay mentally and physically fit and historical tidbits for his Indian grandchildren who weren’t studying their culture because they lived abroad.
To him, the computer, email and now technology were bringing him closer to his spread-out family. He was using these tools to glue the family together even from afar and to ensure that the family, no matter how far they were from each other, remained rooted to his words and his advice. He forwarded emails that he wrote to his friends that mentioned any one from the family, or that could create a connection and network for any of his loved ones.
There were no emojis, no gifs and no reactions. Responses to his emails had to be as thoughtful as his effort of writing them. Ignoring an email wasn’t effective since he often sent multiple emails, some chain mails, some newspaper articles or clippings and some long letters. He was determined to maximize communication with his family and strengthen his most cherished ties.
There was friendly banter among the younger members of the family and an acknowledgement that everyone in the home had read the email. While some were not keen on technology and relied on another person reading it out loud to them, others became the token “email responder” or communication-mule for that family unit. Photographs were the one thing that brought everyone to the desktop, whether it was to help with the process of uploading the photos from the camera or accessing the CD that the photography shop had given with all the photos on it; these photos were approved, scrutinized and finally shared with the whole family.
Desktops are now defunct. Tablets, laptops and smart phones have taken over our lives.
He is no more, his desktop rusting under its cover as his wife knows not what to do as there is always a chance that unlike other things, this could work again. She dusts around it, knowing the value it held for her husband but not knowing how to translate that into value for herself today.
Does that computer turn on, does it whir, how far does the motherboard go before it blue-screens? These are all questions with no answers. Visits to that room have reduced dramatically. The room feels different, a little stale, like a library that used to be vibrant but is now not being used. There is a different aura to “Home news” emails now and that drains on anyone that enters that room. Things always change but with social media and increased technology, some negatives have come about as well. It’s hard to think that perhaps “Home News” was my grandfather’s way of preventing the cracks that prop up in a family’s foundation and was his way of sealing over them with weatherproof concrete.
He would be sad to see he may have been the last gatekeeper of that goal and that now, things are very different. Technology may not have solved as many things as he imagined it would and that is an unexpected irony.