In a zone without the smartphone – Pranjal, Kolkata

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How often do we get out of our pretentious worlds to all intents and purposes enjoy what we pretend to be enjoying? Scarcely ever.

“Have a nice flight”, said the airhostess handing over our boarding passes to us, with a smile that seemed plastered to her face, evidently under obligation to her job and nothing more. I smiled back so vaguely that after a moment I found myself wondering whether my minuscule smile even qualified as one. This in turn made me think of how difficult it has become these days to witness a genuine smile. A smile like that of my grandma back home, who greets everyone she meets with an ingenuous smile, simply bereft of artificiality. I wished I could smile naturally like that.

I walked ahead with my parents and brother towards our boarding gate. At about every ten metres people were busy clicking shots of themselves from a high angle, exaggerating the size of the eyes and giving the impression of a slender pointed chin, or simply put, “Selfies”, a fancy locution not many had a hint about until a few years back. Well, it’s a term that is so clichéd now that this whole description sounds funny (not funnier than the selfie itself however).

It would be after years that we’d be travelling to Himachal together. Seated in the lobby we were all busy with our own devices. My brother was busy playing FIFA on his iPad. My parents were busy on their individual phones. I, as usual, was pointlessly scrolling down Facebook. My thumb had been accustomed to opening the Facebook app on my phone, even subconsciously. There was a little boy, perhaps five years old, sitting next to me. He was looking at the picture of a tree in a magazine. With a pinch gesture he tried to zoom in the picture in the page. After a failed attempt he grabbed his Mom’s phone, clicked a picture of the page and then began to zoom in.

In the flight, I occupied the aisle. There was a young girl sitting next to me. With an expression that somebody from my grandma’s generation might compare to a fish taking water into its mouth to breathe, she clicked a selfie. After a lot of trial and error she singled out a filter and posted her picture on Instagram after which she updated her Facebook status. (Point to be noted: you are not travelling if you don’t update your Facebook status!). I put on my eye mask and went to sleep.

After collecting our luggage from the Delhi airport we started moving outside, to where a pre-booked cab would be waiting for us. On the travelator was a boy of about 15, who was live on Facebook to telecast this amazing event of walking on a travelator! Suddenly he tripped over his own bag but managed to get up and walk away. (I’m sure that must have hurt).

The next morning on our way to Dharamshala from Delhi by road, we stopped for breakfast at Sukhdev, a restaurant that is renowned for its parathas. In spite of it being huge and spacious the restaurant was swarming with people. We had to wait for a while to get a table for four. One gentleman, clicked a photo of his paratha and posted it on all possible social networking sites with captions like “Enjoying the paratha at Sukhdev”. I wonder if he actually had time to relish the taste of it amidst the hectic task of counting the likes for his posts and replying to comments. (I know I shouldn’t have peeked in, but what else can one to do while waiting for a table). After a delectable breakfast and an elaborate photo session, we resumed our journey.

I couldn’t be sure if I was dreaming of the sight I beheld after I awoke in the car, a few hours later. “Wow. Look at those mountains”, I exclaimed to my brother who was already adoring the scenery, long before I did. After a while I asked my brother to pose for a selfie in the car. In awe of the sight I kept clicking photos all along, wondering which ones I could post. “‘En route Dharamshala’, should be a good caption for my post”, I thought to myself. I was lost neither in the beauty of the place nor in the wonderful company of my family, but in my phone’s photo editor.

Our stay was arranged amidst the woods in a place that was about ten kilometres away from the small town of Dharamshala. The very reason we had chosen the place was that unlike other places this wouldn’t be thronging with people. Reaching the site we discovered that all mobile networks were scanty. To add to it, that evening my phone fell in water. I had to disassemble all its parts and leave it to dry.

The next morning all of us awoke at about four thirty, as planned the previous night. It was perhaps the first time in many years that I awoke so early. My phone did not work still, my dad’s phone was completely drained of charge and so was my mom’s phone. Helplessly we had to leave all our phones in our rooms. With our small backpacks on, we set out to tread and explore the woods.

In no time we were amidst the tall trees. The phantom silence was stunning. There was no movement initially except the breaking of twigs beneath our feet. I could feel the purity in the air. The different scents that drifted across the woods were a treat to my olfactory receptors. From the gaps between lofty trees a faint light of the rising sun revealed the various hues of brown in the woods. Mingled with the soil, grass and twigs beneath, rocks added their greys to the ground. And then to break the silence, at first light was a tremendous outburst of chirping birds.

After the quietude was interrupted by the birds, we began to speak too. I rediscovered that my dad is well equipped with humour and precision comic timing. With his endless supply of wonderful stories and our own additions to it, the four of us were thoroughly entertained as we walked along. My mom unravelled her poetic side, amid which I too tried my hand at some impromptu poetry, though mine sounded more like a nursery rhyme than a poem! “How far can you throw this stone?”, my brother asked picking up a pebble from the ground. And we began challenging each other on who could throw pebbles farther. The sounds of our laughter and pebbles hitting the tree stems resonated across the woods. Could I ever have captured this whole feeling on my phone? Never, but surely I could etch it to memory, which I effortlessly did.

As we walked further my eyes travelled to the edge of the woods, which now seemed to be a silhouette against a backdrop of the mighty snow-capped Himalayas. The woods ended and we could now clearly see the sun peeking out of the majestic, white mountains, touching the pristine sky. We walked further down along a meadow, to reach a stream of clear gushing water on the banks of which sat rocks, beautifully carved by nature. I let my fingers run over the chilly flowing water. And there was a broad smile on my face, a genuine one this time. I did not have to wonder if my smile qualified as one, unlike I had wondered at the airport. We were a million worlds away from the concrete jungles and high-tech lifestyles. I was thankful that none of us carried our phones along. There was nothing that could shackle us against being at one with our own selves.

In a world where selfies have become more important than being our own selves, where our Facebook statuses have become more relevant than the state of our minds, where we are so indulged in Snapchat that we forget to chat with people around us, where we have time to Tweet but no time to listen to the twitter of birds, where our true smiles are miles away from us, can we ever experience true contentment? It would only do us good to sometimes lift up our heads from our glaring smartphone screens and feel the world around us.

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