Defining moments

Defining moments – you’ve got to think about them with a bit of nostalgia.

Picture our ancestral man walking in the woods completely at the mercy of nature. He worships her and hopes she will be kind to him. He prays, pleads and cherishes nature – for he knows this is her eternal playground and he is but a player who can make hay only when the sun shines.

And then one day, a nerdy one from his community comes up with a contraption which tilts the balance a little in his favor. He can now do more with less and he lays his achievement at the feet of his god. Ploughs, clubs (the animal beating kind not the trance inducing kind!) and fire are very early examples of such inventions. Man basked in glory with his invention and nature smiled in acknowledgement of his genius.

Over time, the machines take over and nature often gets displaced from the equation, indeed she has become fodder to the machines in several cases. Think about it – cars and phones have made distance irrelevant, air-conditioning and heaters have softened weather extremities and so on. The ozone layer, fossil fuels and precious metals are fast becoming endangered – but without doubt, the inventions they have enabled have improved material quality of life, saved numerous lives and put people on the moon.

To me, the second phase is always intriguing – the one where nature still ruled but man exhibited his brilliance and excelled. This man travelled where no man had gone before and could truly feel he had hit a home run (in the third phase, I suppose the machines could feel the same way too!). There are a few of the wonderful inventions from yesteryear we can experience even today – and when we do, we experience a bit of the joy that our very proud ancestor must have felt in those very early days.

The “Inland” letters: Think back a few hundred years. Man had to make long arduous journeys (or coax his traveler pigeons!) to communicate with his loved ones. It was only the fit and the adventurous that could make such journeys and a messenger could take with him but brief notes from the entire tribe. Just facts were shared – there wasn’t enough technology to be able to share emotions yet.

The age of the post office dawned then and allowed for low-cost, elaborate, emotional communication. Handcrafted letters to your loved ones and greetings to brighten up special occasions were the order of the day – a state of affairs that continued till the dawn of this century. People spent time choosing the type of paper (also the pen and the ink) and spent quality time composing letters that spoke volumes and were cherished by the receiver. Many from the “letter generation” have collections that they hold very dearly to this day.

If this seems like a cool thing, why not share a personalized (yes you could use your tablet too!) thoughtful message to a loved one today? How do we know its personalized – check the distribution list (it should be singular!), check the address and signature (it should not be auto signature) and ask yourself if the person concerned deserves a hand-written note (if he/she does you are bang on target).

Bicycles: The invention of the bicycle must have been a momentous moment for man who could suddenly travel twice or thrice the distance he could cover earlier in the same amount of time with ease. The bicycle still required him to pedal though (gears came much later!) and he couldn’t cycle on rough roads or in very bad weather. It wasn’t man vs machine vs nature, but rather a partnership that stretched the limits of man and machine and helped him do more with nature.

The bicycle even today brings in this feeling – almost mystical – of experiencing the fast paced world without sacrificing one’s humanness. You feel the road and its surface bumps (especially if you have one of those modern ones which don’t have suspensions!), you can see (and smell) the multi-colored hues on the vegetable seller’s stalls, sense the excitement in the old couple rushing to catch the bus home for dusshera and the prayers on the children’s lips hoping for a miracle (for the school to be declared a holiday!). You can also feel the stark indifference from the cars (and the big SUVs) which scream past, windows locked, music and mobiles on – they are there beside you on the road but the electronics (and machines) are a pied piper of our times – and have claimed these folks into their virtual world.

Now, here’s the thing – these reflections do not demand binary responses – you don’t need to replace your mercedes with a bicycle. You don’t need to replace sending hundreds of emails addressed to tons of people with personalized messages – you cannot do so nor would our relationship with most of the recipients be intimate enough to deserve a personalized message (just yet).

To complement our very busy life though, if could bring in a few moments where we get to experience some of these “defining and human” moments – our lives would be much richer. At these moments, we are truly alive with nature, machine and man in true equilibrium – and the symmetry does bring a smile to your face.

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