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The plugged-in parivar


Headphones don't just ruin the hearing, they've changed family dynamics. Each member is tuned in to a different channel. While one is tapping palm to Carnatic music, another is fairly buzzing on the spot with rock so loud that it interferes with your FM

Kids are posh people. Gizmos to generalities, they are all logged in. Where I was a Vaseline woman all my life my daughters are very Elizabeth Arden. There's apparently a way to place elbows on a table - with forearms facing out. When it comes to man-talk, they are frankly amazed I managed to get hitched at all. They see the latest American soaps online while I watch the first season on TV. It is not cute, they tell me, to lose it with the comp. They are like the wise visiting kings of the Magi, guided here by my bad hairdo.

Trouble starts when it is my turn to talk - they just can't tune in! I agree it is not cool to appear interested when a parent rants, that looking up midway with a 'you talking to me?' expression is mandatory to teenagers. But it bugs me each time I deliver the profoundest of monologues and they pull out earphones and go 'pardon?' The doorbell rings, milk boils over, the landline shrills, the house is on fire - and they are listening raptly to some stoned chap rap.

When I walk in the front door, no one rushes out to welcome me, as each is doing her own hi-tech thing. I might as well be living alone. They are looking for life in Mars, I am looking for life in my own home! Anyone can rob my house uninterrupted except for a falsetto faraway as someone sings along in an impossible pitch.

Why do they think I had them in the first place? As a mom you get a captive audience, that's why. Babies come all wide-eyed, happy to nod, unable to get up and leave. Through lullabies, bedtime stories and baby-talk, they are all ears. Then they grow up and plug their ears! If I ever win an Oscar - for best audience perhaps - I won't thank them in my speech, for Lady Gaga will be busy cooing in their ears.

Headphones have wiped out whole faces, expressions are extinct. Looking freshly botoxed, today's youth gets by with bare minimum facial effort. Eyes roll, eyeballs slide. Lip twitches, curls, stills. Shoulder goes up, stays up. A raised eyebrow means this is so not the coffee they ordered. Two eyebrows up is a major event;probably a heartthrob has 'un-friended' them. But beware if they ever take out their headphones. This is as dramatic as it gets and means they are seriously pissed.

You beg your kids to 'please, please listen' when someone starts talking to them - that is, they must disconnect from any battery-operated device for the duration of a social chat - in what is a modern-day version of your mom making you write 'thank-you' letters for the most useless of presents. 'Meet eyes' is the new 'touch their feet'.

You repeat all you've heard about listening: it is an art, a physical act, a mark of deep respect, a biological and physiological byproduct of being, an awareness of another, a gift... No, not something you can download.

In your own time it was different;everything you knew you had eavesdropped. Dads, teachers, aunts, boyfriends, bosses, colleagues, neighbours and people who sit next to you when you travel with sob stories that never end, everyone had something to say to you. Till along come kids and switch you off. With computer games and mobiles and laptops and IPods and IPads and IWhatnots, they don't need to lock their doors to keep you out anymore.

You can bring your whole brood to sit on the dining table for a meal, but you cannot make them talk to each other. When the kid on the left laughs loudly at something only she can hear, the kid on the right doesn't so much as blink. Each family member is tuned in to a different channel. While one is tapping palm to Carnatic music, another is fairly buzzing on the spot with rock so loud that it interferes with your FM. Family bonding has turned pre-lingual. No one is talking, no one is listening, all is mime. Soon we will have to reinvent the alphabet.

When the kids fall asleep, you tenderly unplug the various wires attached to their skull and watch those ears quiver bare and defenseless in the night air. You hope elves will come in the night and repair their eardrums.

For those of you who have never seen ears: pick an earphone gently and there it is. Just like adolescents come with headphones, heads traditionally come with a pair of ears. Like earphones, ears comes in many shapes and sizes - low-profile or sticking out comical like jug handles. Ears can come in handy to tuck hair and spectacle legs behind them. They continue to be pierced, by both men and women, and embellished with earrings. Earlobes are no longer tugged to convey a cute 'mea culpa' since this could dislodge earphone. Gossip is texted and not whispered as headphones have to be shifted each time - what a bother! Also LOL is better typed than told.

Earphones are not always a bad thing though. Halfway through the most inspired lectures of my lifetime and noticing how blank my daughter looks, I have groped her ears, only to find NO earphones. This depresses me no end;I'm obviously not as scintillating as I think. If I can't blame earphones, then it must be me.


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