The Commodore 64 was the first computer my father owned. He bought it a couple of years before I was born and loved it dearly. It looked nothing like the computers we know today. There was no hard disk; instead it had to be booted using a large floppy disk. There was no monitor either; the setup had to be plugged into the TV. The operating system was neither Windows, nor Linux. It wasn’t even DOS. It ran on BASIC. But most of all, I loved the keyboard. It was solid piece, as thick as a briefcase with chocolate brown keys encased in a light brown body. It was an imposing piece of equipment, typing on it made one look very important.
Everything looked mysterious and exciting. The large and dusty floppy disks in brown semi transparent boxes, the thick user manuals, the miles of interconnecting cables, the flashing red and green LED’s on the floppy drive, the eerie blue screen on the television; it all looked so advanced. My father looked like a Geek God when he was using the computer. I would watch in awe from a distance.
When my father wasn’t around, I would take the brown keyboard to the loo and then surrender to my wild Sci-fi fantasies. I was the pilot of a spaceship, the bathroom -my cockpit. Furiously typing commands on the keyboard, I ascertained enemy ship locations, warned sister ships, launched missiles, dodged enemy fire and escaped into hyperspace. Little did the makers of the Commodore 64 suspect that their product was being used on the potty to conduct nuclear warfare.
Within a short period of time the keyboard stopped working. My father never accused me but I think he felt I was somehow responsible. I didn’t breathe a word. The Commodore 64 was buried at the bottom of the cupboard never to be seen again.
When I turned 16 my father bought a Zenith PC that came with a dial up internet connection. My father and I listened with interest as the modem hemmed and hawed, squawked and screeched until a connection was established. After that we didn’t know what to do. We spent several minutes just waiting for something to happen, for a window to miraculously open and connect us to the only website we knew: hotmail.com. It wasn’t until a knowledgeable friend dropped by that we double clicked on the internet explorer icon. From then on I was hooked.
The very next day, I came racing back from school knowing that no one would be at home. In a feverish state of excitement I switched on the computer and the modem, waited impatiently for the connection to be established. I opened Yahoo search and breathlessly typed “Pamela Anderson, NAKED”. It was my first brush with the infinite possibilities the internet offered. Until my mother came home an hour later, I gazed wide eyed at the screen as compromising pictures of the busty beauty flooded my senses.
If it was my first brush with cyber nudity, it was also my first lesson in the need for careful concealment of my dubious activities. Within minutes an email from VSNL arrived in the inbox warning me of the criminal nature of my pursuits and the punishment that was likely. I had no idea the email had come until my dad opened the inbox later that night.
What followed was a period of intense embarrassment. When my parents demanded to know what the devil was happening, I hurriedly came up with a cock and bull story of how possibly some one had hacked into our VSNL account and misused the same. My mother, a seasoned school teacher didn’t believe a word of it. My father however readily believed me and assured her that these things happen quite frequently, that cyber theft was a common occurrence. I felt couldn’t believe that he’d fallen for my story. Now when I look back I realize that my dad was just trying to save my skin.
With time I learnt to clear the history and remove the temporary internet files. I deleted cookies and used proxy websites. I was as careful as I could be. I always felt guilty though. My father used the computer to run mathematical software called MATLAB for abstract modeling. My own models were stark naked.
While my father and I frequently used the computer, my mother kept her distance. To me the computer was device to be used, misused and abused. She on the other hand would never turn it on but instead reverentially clean its surface everyday and warn me that if I didn’t dust the computer, viruses would enter and cause it to crash. I found her naivety painful and tried hard to ward off her superstitions. I never succeeded.
When she found other teachers at the school were beginning to use the computer to surf the internet, send email and make power point presentations, my mother too began to get interested. With me by her side, she hesitantly turned the computer on and began to explore its features. She never quite mastered it. She would open internet explorer before connecting to the internet, she could never remember where she’d saved her documents and when Microsoft Word formatted her text in ways she never asked for, she would have a nervous breakdown. She was always quite timid around the computer, afraid that any sudden movement would cause the computer to crash. If she hadn’t used the computer for a couple of weeks, she would forget the sequence in which it had to be turned on. The computer was always bigger than her.
But there were moments when the computer behaved and everything operated the way she wanted it to. During these moments, she would relax and grin, happy that she too knew how to use the computer. Having attended typing classes as a teenager, she would sit straight and primly type on the keyboard. I would watch from a distance and smile.
My grandfather was always curious to know what this internet thing was and asked me several times to explain it to him. I’d seat him next to me in front of the computer and enthusiastically launch into a detailed explanation of networks, servers, modems and websites. Within minutes he would be snoring gently.
I now use a HP pavilion laptop and it has been my friend, philosopher and guide for the last two years. In college I used it to make presentations, study, download music, watch movies and chat online into the early hours of the morning. When the hard disk crashed and had to be replaced, I suffered intense pangs of loneliness until it was fixed. Without a laptop, I had no identity, no place in the universe and no meaning in life. Friends would avoid me, knowing that I wanted their laptop. I was loath to join the other nomads who pathetically used the computer lab.
The Zenith PC now lies gathering dust in my house. Like the Commodore 64 it is a relic, no longer fit to be used in today’s fast paced world. It saddens me that’s it importance in my life was transient. For years it patiently bore the onslaught of my impatient fingers and took me to places far far away. I will probably never use it again but I can never throw it away. Perhaps one day in the future I wouldn’t mind if my son took it with him to the loo.