006. Small Intriguing Things Around Me

My home, like many other middle-class homes, has its quota of gadgets and they work fairly well and often times I even enjoy using them. But many times I have an uncomfortable feeling about them.

Take, for example, the telephone. Whosoever invented it used it to talk English with someone. But my telephone has developed an uncanny knack of talking, like me, in many languages. It can speak English. Not only that, it can also speak Hindi, which I accepted as Hindi is our national language and government must have made it compulsory for the manufacturers to make them speak English, though under which Act, I know not. It speaks Gujarati also, which also I accepted, as the manufacturer was a Gujarati company and must have taught it for the love of the mother tongue. But when it speaks Marathi also, I am plain foxed! How can it do so? If it were a computer, I, as a layman would excuse it saying that a computer can do anything. But I know this piece of black is not a computer. Then how can it? There’s something fishy about the whole thing. Otherwise how can you explain the knack? See, my telephone is hardly two years old, and can talk at least four languages. At that age I could hardly speak one language. Now, unless you want to jump to the erroneous and totally unwarranted conclusion that my intelligence is inferior to that of my telephone, you have to agree that things are not all right. I have no concrete evidence to prove it, but I suspect it may also speak Malayalam or Greek. I am plain confused! My confusion got further aggravated when a Ph D in Electronics friend of mine (yes, I do have some learned friends!) condescendingly tried to tell me that the sound is converted into electricity, carried to the destination telephone and reconverted into sound at the receiving end. This then opens up another ghost chamber: how does electricity know that this is Russian talk and should be converted and reconverted accordingly. Why can’t it happen that the Russian talk gets converted as Greek and ultimately delivered as Tulu or Swahili? Where’s the control? There is no dialogue box where you select the language and click the ‘OK’ button. In the name of transparency all this must be explained and put on the internet.

But if you think things stop here, you are wrong. On many occasions, while talking over the phone, I have noticed that the telephone can sing! I’ve myself heard it sing TV commercial jingles a couple of times. That is too much! In addition to the languages, where did it learn to sing? It is one thing to speak a language but quite another to sing! Again, don’t try to tell me it is the electrical waves, because there, again, my question would be where did it learn singing or even to distinguish between musical and non-musical noises? I have been trying to solve this for a long time now and even looked up the net, without any concrete results.

It continues to be a haunting mystery to me to date.

Another spooky gadget that gives me the goose pimples at times is the music system. This contraption I bought, paying hard earned money and not on a loan from the bank for enjoining music. However, things started going the mystery way immediately. The seller had assured me that the piece was a good music system, but what happens? Within no time children started using as a public address system, mimicking Shekhar Suman (of all things!). Where is music there? Who are they trying to fool?

When we looked up the piece, it was singing songs from a currently popular Hindi film. Children liked the sound and I paid up. Now, between you and me and not to be disclosed elsewhere, I also enjoy classical music, and have a small secret collection in this line. I was planning to buy another system that could sing and play classical music, but to my surprise, my children assured me that this piece could also sing classical music (both, Hindustani as well as Karnatic, they added) and actually demonstrated it. How can it be? How can a music system created for singing Hindi film songs sing or play classical music of both verities? Wanting to understand the whole thing, I undertook a close look at the gadget. To my horror, I found that it was made in Japan by a Japanese company! Now things are going completely out of control. A music system, manufactured by a Japanese company in Japan and sold in India sings Hindi films songs and classical music, which is in many Indian languages. Where is the ‘select’ button? That intelligent doctorate friend of mine explained it away with a wave of hand saying that the music system plays what is recorded on the cassette or the CD. I don’t know about the CD but the cassette I had put in is a Tony made in Taiwan! Tell me, if you think you’ve all the answers, how does it distinguish between one and the other language? And how can it differentiate between musical and non-musical sounds, because, one tape with the children has some chap telling supposedly funny stories. All this is very scary and every time someone switches on the thing, I am in mortal fear of what the thing is going blare out and when it turns out to be hard rock, effects of which can be measured as 7.5 on the EQ machine, I humbly thank God for the mercy.

And then nowadays I have to work with computers in the office. At home also there is a PC. It is not that I am not perplexed with its doings (how does it distinguish between Windows and Linux? How does it know chose the precise moment for crashing?) but I’ll not talk about it as better informed persons than me agree that they (the computers, that is, not the better informed persons) are the wisest things to come on the earth, after the apes. But the printers are not so certified. Still how does it know to gobble up the paper smack in the middle of a longish report that the MD wants urgently?

I don’t have one at home (nor do I wish to have one), but I’m equally curiously worried about that another wonder. I am talking about the photocopier. How does it figure out that this document, which in Jack’s handwriting must be Xeroxed only in Jack’s handwriting and not Robert’s or Jane’s? Further, I don’t know whether you have ever noticed it, but on closer scrutiny you will find that most of these machines, regardless of wherever or by whomsoever manufactured, can write in several languages and scripts. This uncanny ability of these machines seems to have gone unnoticed by and large by the STD-PCO-Xeroxwallahs, for only one such shop (in Pune!) had put up an advertisement “Xeroxing done in all languages here”.

Meanwhile all these gadgets are making a nervous wreck out of me. All my attempts to find some order in all these mysterious behaviour have come to a not.

Invocation of the RTI Act seems to be the only alternative available.

— rckathale@gmail.com

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