Monday, January 05, 2015

A number in history

History was one of my most favourite subjects in school. And I especially enjoyed reading about colonialism and the conscious process of nation-building. How kings indulged a greed for more, how empires felt the need for power. During successive years, I saw that many of my friends did not share my curiosity for the past, some of them in fact felt otherwise. Things were said and done and it has all been long gone, so we should forget about it and live in the present, they argued.

Mastery of Zen Buddhist philosophy by twelve year olds? Or just a marked dislike for the study of history? I didn't know then and I didn't attempt to find out. But I like to think that many of us have since realised that studying the past does not necessarily mean that you are reliving it or cherishing a sense of unhealthy/unproductive nostalgia. A consciousness of events and influences past can guide us to a better understanding of who we are, which is much bigger than ourselves, our immediate surroundings and our societies. It is also very likely that this knowledge might change our present or shape our future (if that's what we're looking for). And of course, like Steve Jobs said, we can only connect the dots looking backwards. So there, live in the present but do not be afraid to look back. In so doing, we construct a certain aura about this day, that time

Today happens to be one among my many "days to remember". Today, five years ago, I bought the SIM card to my first, personal cell phone. This meant that I could finally be in touch with my friends. Anytime. Everytime. Always. 

I would no longer need to plead with my mother to borrow her phone or sincerely demonstrate our mutually agreed terms of fair usage. Neither would I have to feign apologies on keeping the landline engaged for long. Further, the far-fetched notion of speaking to friends on birthdays as the clock struck twelve was now real. 

Quite a big deal, that.

I finally had an identity - ten digits which would represent me as much as (or in some sense, more than?) my name. How would I choose those numbers? Should I ask to be in serial with my family? That way, there would be just one, or at the most, two digits that would differentiate us from each other. Or should I do what my peers did -- incorporate the digits of my birth? Or perhaps try to rack my brain a little, use some creativity and request for a meaningful set of numbers? 

That wasn't all -- there were a whole range of service providers, offering these fancy-sounding terms like top-ups and talktimes and whatnots. All basically providing the same things at similar prices.

Hey Bhagwan, this was getting more and more complicated. I didn't need to be in serial with my family, in order to memorise their numbers. And maybe, just maybe, I did not want to merge my soon-to-be-mobile self with the familial units. The birth-digits option would have made sense if I was a schoolgirl. But I was in college and I felt quite above such childishness. And I couldn't think of any set of meaningful numbers because I had hitherto lived a simple, uneventful life. 

I was anything but average at math, preferring always the qualitative over the numeric, so I was getting too lost with all this preoccupation with numbers. But my mind insisted that it was necessary, because the digits once chosen, would become my identity and I would have to live with what I had created. 

I invested a few days of my winter vacation in this quandary. The answer came to me one afternoon while watching an old Hindi film on tv. Listen to this song, and you'll know (and please don't judge me).

As to what I did? Well, I went to the store and let them do their job. I got a number and an identity I am quite comfortable with. 

Two years later, the government of India came up with the Mobile Number Portability scheme, allowing existing users to change their service provider without changing their ten-digit phone number. So, that was one of my concerns already taken care of. They're also trying to work on eliminating the roaming charges in the country, so I wouldn't have to worry about altering my identity at all, as long as I lived in India :)

On ever leaving the country... I'll cross that bridge when I come to it and create whatever avatar I then feel like.

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