The delicate art of Not-Showing-Off

Mucho bigger and better

There is an inherent desire among humans to achieve more than their peers. This mindset is at the heart of consumerist culture, and what fuels growth, in modern terms. Everybody knows that, obviously, although few choose to acknowledge or even think about it.

As a school student, I once saw my father bring home a phone. It was a ‘mobile’ phone. All you had to do was charge it for a few hours, and then you could carry it around with you, and make calls. It had a little antennae on the top,that could be adjusted for height, and I spend a lot of time examining this particular feature, for possible defects. It was like magic.

Apparently, this new model even allowed you to send short messages. He was afraid of making or even receiving calls on the phone because the charges were sky-high. He had got the phone from his office for free, but he had to pay for the calls. I remember, once he had a work-related emergency while we were visiting our native place, and he used his mobile phone to make a few calls, and had one of his work buddies help him out.

We had gone on a vacation to our native place to celebrate Vishu. That’s the New Year, as per the malayali calendar. It coincides with the sowing season (Kerala used to be an agricultural community). It falls on the 14th of April. The entire extended family was present for the occasion. And all of them saw him do it. Make the calls, I mean (He was standing on the rooftop, the only place you could get reception). I noticed some of the relatives laughing at his antics(it was a little weird). One of my the uncles(he was young) made a snide remark about my father, saying what could have been so important that he had to climb on to the roof to make a call. (There was no landline at my grandfather’s place). I didn’t appreciate my father being called a show-off. I avenged my father’s pride, of course(My uncle had a nasty surprise when he got up the next morning), but I digress…

Years have gone by since that incident. Bill Gates retired, Steve Jobs died, iphone is now a joke,  Jaguar and Land Rover are now Indian companies, google is a word you can use in Scrabble, and my father is no longer afraid of answering phone calls. Mobile phones went through a phase when smaller phones were all the fad(read RAZR). Then touch screens were invented, and the freudian theory of ‘bigger is better’ was back with a bang.

The business world has gone through rapid transformations. Motorola, a company with a history of doing business for almost a century, the company that pioneered mobile technology, went bankrupt and got sold to a company that was not in existence when my father got on the rooftop to make that phone call. One of the largest mobile manufacturers in the world, Nokia, is now owned by Microsoft, a company that dismissed smart phones as a passing fad not too many years ago. Like an ancient Indian Guru once said, shit changes in the blink of an eye. So move your bowels regularly. Or not. Not the point.

My father retired this year, and we visited our native place again, and most of the extended family had got together with us to celebrate Vishu(Some relatives died, some cousins got pregnant, and one of them works in the US now. I never hear the end of it). My underachieving self was present there, and so were some of my achieving-cousins. They were busy showing off their mobile phones and ipads and whatnots(Of course I’m not jealous. I’m not a materialistic person, that’s why I own a Nokia C2. I’m a minimalist). I excused myself from the group and joined the uncles in reminiscing about the good old days when I was yet to be born.

My trusted C2-00(My C2-00, or, as I call it, ‘The TANK’)

The TV was on, and the news was about a local movie star who never owned a mobile phone. The Elders were talking about how unusual it was for a man to not own a mobile phone in this day and age.  The young uncle(who is older now) was only half listening to the news. His head was buried in his phone. He opened his mouth to make one observation –

“What a show off…”


9 thoughts on “The delicate art of Not-Showing-Off

  1. Yes. Everything in life is in a continuum. One man’s food is another man’s poison. Once Sarojini Devi – reportedly – remarked, “If only Gandhiji knows how difficult it is to maintain his simplicity…”

    Thinking, “How I look to you?” is a risky affair. Let us learn to just go on … and on.

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