'Why Won't You Talk To Me?'

1:25 am

In the early 90s, the run up to January was dominated by an important ritual in our house. My father would come back from work one evening and hidden in his briefcase amongst several other mysterious and fascinating pieces of office stationary, would be a stack of cards; simple white background and blue text; identical to each other in every way. The well-meaning organization responsible for this was the Indian Air Force, which in addition to cottage cheese tins, onions, rice, sugar, custard-jelly ready-mixes, and other essential survival supplies, also gave its devoted employees a free stack of New Year cards every year.

My father had already been in the IAF for a few years and my parents had amassed a wide and varied collection of acquaintances and friends; partly due to my father’s postings and partly due to my parents’ butterfly like gregariousness and natural likability. It was an unwritten understanding that we couldn’t possibly allow any of these good hearted souls to start their year without a fond note from the Nageshes. Thus would begin the annual process of sending everyone a greeting card.

Not wanting to leave anyone out, my father would collate a list of everyone-we-knew including their uncle, aunty, and dog. After that he would begin writing customary happy-new-year wishes. Depending on the degree of closeness of the addressees to us, the cards would at times contain a personalised message; enquiring about everyone individually while informing them of the exciting occurrences in our household.

My contribution to the whole affair was my beautiful, personalised signature which proudly stated my full name and my class and section at school. If I had a particular fondness for the recipients of the card, I would also draw some scenery and some square people in the corner. Another thing that I used to be quite excited about was being allowed to sign my brother’s name for him as being all of wee chubby baby-ness, he couldn’t write yet.

In return, we received New Year greeting cards too. These cards would be displayed in diagonally drawn ropes across our living room till we reached a common consensus that it was too late to be celebrating New Year and brought all the cards down.

Gradually, my parents’ social circles got smaller. We moved to Bangalore and with most of our relatives so close to us, there didn’t seem to be a need for any extra communication. Around that time, we also got introduced to the gorgeous World Wide Web which made staying in touch with international relatives/friends a tangible and quick thing. So one year, without any discussion or drama, my family outgrew its lovely little greeting card tradition.

My parents’ collective attitude to communication and staying in touch has always had a sort of martyr like good-will connected with it. Both of them place high priority on remembering the birthdays/wedding anniversaries/death anniversaries/auspicious anniversaries of every single one of their friends/family and have been doing this long before the advent of the F word and I don’t mean four letters, I mean eight. The fact remains, however, that on more occasions than there ought to have been, I have been witness to my parents’ gentle dismissal of all the people who forget their own special days.
Without holding a single grudge, my father is now the proud creator of two Family Google groups and heaven knows how many private-e-mail-circles; all of which are successfully serving as forums for priceless private discussions and friendly exchanges. My parents are always calling people up, visiting people, thinking about people and letting them know, no matter how uni directional the whole process sometimes is.

Despite being exposed to all these enlightening experiences and ideas, my own approach towards staying in touch with my friends and family has charted out quite differently. I used to be a happy follower and creator of postal traditions. Writing letters and cards to all those who left me behind or who I left behind was a pleasurable, patient experience. Long gaps between letters were perfectly acceptable and a complete shift in paths and interests used to be treated with grace. But now, several years later, educated, working, I seem to be stuck in the mind of a fresh teenager who refuses to believe that people can be busy with life and all the other clich├ęs that come with it. I am constantly plagued with insecurities and my biggest fear which is not being able to understand everything there is to understand about who I consider to be my close friends and family. Why would anyone not respond to my lovingly written e-mails, my well-meaning phone calls, my cheery message on Facebook, and my five screen long text messages? Why would anyone fail to do these things when it was so easy and fast to do them and so instrumental in improving my understanding of them as people due to all that extra information?

One of the most unusual things about London’s spring cleaning culture is that once people feel they have exhausted the lives of their possessions, they tend to leave those things outside their doors; most things in their senile stages; missing a leg and/or several screws/functional elements. But people still seem to want to give the object one last chance of either being forgotten completely or being picked up by a passing soul who felt the dire need for a moth ridden mattress or an unusual painting or a broken desk.

Walking back home one evening, I noticed that there seemed to be a large number of things outside people’s doors that day. One of the houses, white and strange, guarded by two cats, had a discarded sofa outside and as I looked at the sofa, I had an image of each one of my loved ones/ex-loved ones sitting on that sofa and me placing the sofa outside with that person on it time and time again. A few minutes later, one of the cats got up, walked towards me, and let out a purr, forcing me out of my horrible vision and my acquired prima-donna-ness.

I continued to walk till I reached the large park next to my house. It was a beautiful summer day; the sky so pristine that it let out a glare, and in that bright light, I could see parents pushing prams, young men playing football, a group of dogs fighting playfully. Just then, a young girl in a blue and white jumper cycled past me and I thought about those simple New Year Cards we used to send out all those years ago and remembered something about them - there never really was a perfect equilibrium between the cards we sent and the cards we received. We did get replies but we also got cards from some people who we hadn’t sent cards to in the first place.

I have to remind myself that we deemed some people worthy of our good intent, while others deemed us worthy of theirs and many times, the two sets didn't cross paths.The reason that my parents can stomach all the forgotten birthdays and missed phone calls with such good humour is that they have always understood this. That it doesn't matter how easy it is to communicate. That all the immediate modes of communication around us have just made our lives more complicated and don't necessarily enthuse or compel people to contact you or respond to you. That however the world transforms, there will never be an equilibrium between the thoughts you send out and the thoughts you receive and we only do these things because they are simple and because they make us happy and because we love making new traditions. All these things and the fact that there are far more easier and unspoken ways to understand the people you love.

“When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.”
'On Talking', Khalil Gibran.

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