January 2016 By Rashida Jiwani A fortnight back, the air conditioner in my bedroom started giving trouble. It would work one day, and stop the next. I tried to get it fixed but despite the repairman’s best efforts, the air conditioner refused to budge. My sleep was getting disturbed. I slept on the nights it worked, and lay awake when it did not. My existence was sabotaged by a simple machine which I had myself installed and which some other human like myself had manufactured. When the repairer came for a final attempt before declaring the machine irrepairable, I confessed, “I am so used to air conditioning that I cannot sleep a day without it. But when I was young, we just slept under the fan even in high summer and got a good night’s sleep.” He replied, “Maam, in my native village, we don’t even have fans. We sleep in the open under the sky on a charpoy (a cot). If it is very hot, we go to the field where watermelons grow and place the cot over the watermelons. If we want cool water, we put water in an earthen pot, and if we want very cold water then we put bottles of water in a bag and lower the bag in a lake overnight. In the morning it is as cool as fridge water. Our women don’t go to gyms to exercise, but wash clothes and dishes, and sweep and swab on a daily basis. Also they grind wet masala on a sil (a square stone), and grind wheat flour themselves on the grinding wheel. With all that work, they never put on weight, they have no digestion problems, they eat and sleep well.” How complicated our lives have become. We made different machines for our comfort like a refrigerator, grinder-mixer, air conditioner, or the television, and our lives have become so dependent on them, that we cannot survive without them. If any of these appliances get spoilt, our life comes to a standstill. Various comforts like cars have reduced our need to exercise and maintain our contact with nature. Television, computers and mobiles, have reduced human interaction. Facebook has replaced face-to-face meetings. Emails have replaced letter-writing, Kindle has replaced the printed book, mobiles have replaced direct conversation with human vibrations. I remember, when I was very young, I used to take a bus or train only for long distances. Mostly, I would walk to the market with my mom to get vegetables, or clothes, or to meet relatives. So there was no need to specially exercise. What is the solution? We cannot discard modern life, because it has its advantages too. But can we, sometimes, purposely forget the mobile at home, write a letter instead of an email, meet people and listen to their stories instead of watching soaps on television? At least that will create space between us and these gadgets.
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