My granddaughter’s recent Easter holidays were filled with various workshops and days spent with friends. On the days she was free, one of her parents worked from home and we got to spend some intercontinental time with her.
Her father was home that day. He started Skype and told me, ‘Amma, whenever you want to stop, tell her. I have a call now.’
Normally she is allowed an hour or an hour-and-half on Skype, what with her studies and other activities and strain on the eyes. We started talking and she showed us some of her handicraft and talked about this and that. About an hour or so into the call, the son came and gave her lunch. ‘Diya, it has been an hour,’ he reminded her. She nodded.
I watched her eat and chatted as she ate. The time flew and soon it was over an hour and I asked her if she didn’t have any homework that she needed to do and if we should say ‘Bye’.
Her face fell. She clearly wanted us to stay in the ‘room’ with her. Suddenly she brightened.
‘I know what we can do Paati! I won’t look at the screen and will do my homework. You can watch me!’ And so I watched her as she did her homework. After sometime she practised her violin and then did some painting. I left the room briefly from time to time and so did she. We never saw how much time had elapsed till my son came in.
He was aghast. ‘Four-and-half hours! Your eyes, Diya!’
Paati and granddaughter hastened to tell him that I was just with her in the room while she did her work. He started laughing. It was indeed incredible – the amount of time we had spent ‘together’!
I had written a post about the time she had begun Skyping with us, as a little girl. I thought I could share it again and refresh my memory of those days, not that they have faded 🙂
Back to 2012….
Isn’t it wonderful that we can enter into each other’s homes even if separated by oceans and landmasses? Today so many families are staying together thanks to Skype. We are no exception and after deciding the day and time to talk to our grandchild – she has to be fed and not sleepy or cranky — we quickly finish our work and even have an early dinner so that we can chat for as long as the little one is in the mood to sit in one place or at least within the range of the webcam. There are times when the daughter moves with the laptop to catch her but that can be tiring. So when she moves out of range, we chat with her mother or father or both as we wait for her to come back.
Did I make it sound simple? Far from it. We being techno-novices, take our own time in setting up the webcam and speaker and mike, by which time the kids have already called twice and we have responded – sometimes without the audio and other times without the mike. There are times too when we can see the little one and her parents but they can’t see us because the video has not been turned on.
‘I can’t see them Amma,’ she says in her lovely voice and we start talking to her in a rush, forgetting about turning on the video, because we can see her! We ooh and aah as the son is impatiently telling us to turn the video on, PLEASE.
And here comes the tricky part. We have to search for the icons on the screen and keep turning on and off random stuff. ‘Now, we can’t hear you!’ The son is impatient because we are not listening to him but talking to the child of three, who is jumping up and down crooning, ‘Paati, where aaaaaare youuuuuuu?’ and I am jumping in my drawing room making the L&M jittery as he accidentally disconnects the call altogether.
A flurry of activity with accusations back and forth as to who was clumsier till we finally manage to set everything up properly. Whew!
‘I can see you!’ Screams the moppet and then goes completely berserk. She laughs delightedly and claps her hand and when I say, ‘Diya looks so cute!’ she covers her face with her hands and peeps through her fingers shyly. She then starts jumping and dancing again, driving her parents nuts. But her grandparents are delighted and laughing with her. She suddenly disappears and comes back with some little craft project she has done with her mother.
‘Look, Paati, look Jabbu Thatha!’* she says thrusting it so close to the webcam that we can’t see anything. When we tell her that, she slowly goes back asking, ‘Can you see now?’ till we exclaim, ‘Wow! How beautiful!’, much to her delight.
All this was done on the desktop with its extra webcam fixed at one place, since our laptops have some problem or the other which makes talking on Skype difficult. So we sit ramrod stiff one behind the other, in front of the camera and can’t move from our posts because she wants both of us there, even if she is busy doing something other than talking to us. And with the L&M frequently rushing out to talk on his phone or on errand to the other room, she pipes up, ‘Where has Jabbu thatha gone? I can’t see him!’
She wants us both as captive audience as she does her thing in her drawing room thousands of miles away. Obviously she feels we are with her and close to her, just as we feel. But the next moment she zaps us with her comprehension of distances and space.
She has a toy in her hand and I ask her, ‘Will you give that to me?’ and she replies, ‘But you are so far away, paati!’ A look of wistful contemplation comes into her eyes then, perhaps wondering about the time they had come to Delhi she suddenly says, with a hint of tears in her voice, ‘I want to go to the garden with Jabbu thatha!’
All of us on both sides of the ocean rush in simultaneously to reassure her that she would come in the summer holidays and then can go to the garden every day. That brightens her up.
And then, the L&M got this new laptop, which has all the latest built-in features. So now we don’t have to worry about the light since we can take it anywhere and the camera is powerful and affords the kids a clear picture of us with a wider range. We sit side by side now, not one behind another.
When we tell her that we have new laptop, what does the little one do? She turns on the background effects on her screen – there is now a thunderbolt striking at her Jabbu thatha! Her mother points it out to her and she quickly changes it to stop the thunderbolts. And then she turns on the spacecraft theme and floats in space. She is thrilled and begins singing a song about going to the moon (I can’t recollect the exact words). A stanza into it, she realizes that her grandparents are not with her. She stops and asks us to get into one too.
The techno-challenged old couple fumbles and searches while she tries to help from her end! ‘This one Paati!’ she shouts, pointing. Her mother tells us where to find it as the little one impatiently tries to fiddle with her settings.
‘They have to do it on their computer Diya,’ tells her mother patiently, trying to calm her down.
‘Do it fast paati!’ she encourages, unable to understand our slowness and incompetence.
‘They don’t know how to do it,’ explains her mother.
This is puzzling to the child. ‘They have to learn it Amma,’ she says.
Profound words. How can we hope to communicate with the techno-savvy kids of today if we are clueless about the mechanics? With renewed enthusiasm we try and viola! We find ourselves in a spacecraft too! This brings on a cheer from across the continents and the song resumes with gusto, with both the granddaughter and grandparents in their respective crafts, zooming towards the moon! It was a joyous moment.
Song over, she changes the background and this time she was on a moonlit bridge and then there was a festoon of balloons and buntings and we sing Happy Birthday together. Both sets of Skypers (??) go crazy for a while changing the background themes and then suddenly she is behind bars.
For some strange reason, she calls it a playground. We get behind bars too and she says, ‘Hold it paati! Hold it paati!’ I can’t understand what she means till the L&M explains. She wants me to hold the bars and when she does the same, we can ‘touch’ each other! So we both hold our respective bars and we touch each other through ether and space and distance….
Thank you Skype!
*Jabbu in Jabbu Thatha stands for Jabalpur, where we were when she was born, to distinguish him from her other thatha.