I’m a 90s kid born and brought up in India with minimal exposure to technology. No, I wasn’t brought up in jungles or a village with a lack of basic amenities; I was just isolated with not many friends or adults around me to engage. As a result, I missed out on some of the significant hypes created in the tech world when social media happened and cloud computing and AI advancements. What I did see was a ton of misinformation about what the internet was and the purpose of having a computer or any digital device.
I’m the youngest among my parents’ four daughters with a significant age gap from my 3 elder sisters born in the early 80s and me in the late 90s. My parents were in their 40s by that time. Like most Asians, my parents were quite simple Indians who just ended up with each other. Once we began to exist, they existed for us. Once they finally accepted that having a boy was not going to happen, they tried to do everything most parents do so their girls could become strong and independent. When it came to education, they were strong advocates of disregarding gender and ensure the kids got every bit of knowledge the world around them offered.
In the early 2000s, two of my eldest sisters left India to settle in the UK with my father’s faith and blessings. While my mum’s heart was left stuck in her throat (figuratively), her fears were kept at bay, thanks to my sister’s determination and dad’s creative ways of getting things done, I am told. In my observation, my sisters’ ferocity and the continuous urge to be more independent made them known as the equivalents of the “men” in the family. I think this broke the norms of our family where the elders once thought “girls are a burden” and “boys the golden eggs” (No, I don’t dislike males; I just strongly dislike the thinking that differentiates between humans based on gender).
So, after almost 2-ish years of settling down in London and the sad demise of dad in 2005, both my sisters made it a point to visit us at least once a year or invite my mother, and my 3rd sister & me to spend the summer holidays with them. Dad’s demise impacted my childhood like the worse landslide. With all the siblings leading their individual lives in other cities or countries, it was just mom and me in a huge house. Mom had her 9-5 job, a whole house to run cooking & cleaning and all arbitrary paperwork that were dad’s jobs to handle, so she had the least patience and little time to entertain or engage me. I think by the time I was growing up, my mum was just tired of raising kids from the age of 24 to 40+. Add fear to constant tiredness, and you’ll have an overprotective individual to be your parent whom you’ll begin to understand to some extent when you grow up.
Usual school days started with worse mornings. I guess most Asians might relate to it. Wake up alarms weren’t from machines but an adult’s shouts and snarls, sometimes accompanied by a whooping for oversleeping 10-20 minutes. Schools started as early as 7:30 or 8am, which meant if the school was far on the city’s outskirts, you had to catch the school bus around 6:30-7:30am. By the time people are 15 in India, we’re taking extra classes that may run early in the morning at 6am, but then there may be flexibility in attending school given you’re performing well. Schools usually finished around 2pm and eventually the evening spent in other extra classes. In my house, if it was a day between Tuesday-Friday, then evenings were spent in my mother’s company attending her ritual of spiritual gathering (kirtan) at a temple. By 10pm, we’d be home, and if we didn’t manage to have dinner, then we’d finish that and sleep around 11pm just to repeat these chores the next day.
Holidays were different unless my sibling saved me (that counts to 4-5 summers) from the utter boredom of living home alone, with strict instructions to not go out in the street, especially in afternoons or open the gates to strangers. Since mom had so much on her plate, we didn’t really travel much. She’d sometimes let me go play with the neighbours’ kids. So, two and a half months were spent with limited or no access to the Internet, video games, or anything fun with another living being of my age! Mom did not get a television connection because apparently, I gave her a fright when I was a toddler. I stood at stair tops by screaming ‘Shaktimaaaaan’ with an arm extended over my head with one finger pointed. If you don’t know – Shaktimaan is the Indian superhero from a late 90s TV show of the same name. Bingo! No TV, no Shaktimaan, and no more life-threatening stunts from little Mamta. I guess because there was no control over the content shown on TV at that time, mom didn’t really ever manage to sit down and analyse the pros & cons of a TV or find a replacement with other entertaining things around the house. Until I turned 14, the books in my siblings’ little libraries were useless to me and gathered dust (unless we cleaned that). Also, I hated reading novels until I turned 15 and was introduced to Harry Potter (sorry, Scots).
So, the only way I kept myself entertained was either spending time with a new caretaker or a cousin who lived with us for a while or work on the school’s holiday assignments or watch the old DVDs my sisters got.
On their second visit from the UK, my sisters quickly noticed that I had no means of having “fun” at home since my mom never really had the time to take me out for “play days”, and my third sister had moved to another city for college. Even as a 12-year old, I never really understood why they went to the UK. All I understood was they had a job, worked hard, and brought some things for all of us whenever they visited. I got chocolates, unexpected lovely dresses or a few teddy bears (which were my favourite!). However, I don’t think the things they got excited me as much as just having them around me excited me. I got to hear bedtime stories if I got sick on their watch. I got to learn fun games and watch new things like an American show called Friends (fun fact – I laughed without completely understanding the humour for a very long time). Not only the age gap between my siblings & I is massive, them moving out meant even lesser connectivity in the beginning because international communications were expensive, and most time was taken by my mother on those calls, obviously.
My sisters eventually managed to convince mom to let them buy a computer for the house. They told us as much as they knew of the Internet and its power. The selling point to convince our mamma dearest was Yahoo Messenger and emails that would allow them to talk to us more often. When the tiny computer screen with a massive CPU was installed, they ensured to get some applications installed that engaged kids in fun learning. I think my favourite activity was using Encarta kids.
For emails & social media, an account for my mom was created that I could use under mom’s supervision. I’d never really used it for anything but chatting to my sisters. One of the most annoying things for my sister was receiving annoying ‘Helooo’ GIFs from me on Yahoo Messenger.
Our internet was connected to our telephone line and the company that provided the service weren’t the best, but it was better than no internet. But there was still limited access and very little use. After a few months, I just didn’t know what to do with the computer anymore. Our schools weren’t creatively teaching how to use computers or imparting knowledge about what the internet was. Schools began with using books to teach us about the history & the hardware of computers. I remember the day quite clearly when our principal came in, got horrified seeing this and literally scolded the tutor for not having us in the provided computer lab to learn practical skills. Only then we began to learn using basic applications like MS Paint, Word, Excel & PowerPoint. But this didn’t change the teaching strategies. Most studies and assignments throughout the decade of my schooling were paper-based. There was no integration of technology with daily learning. On top of that, my curiosity became governed by fear of getting scolded or whooped if I broke anything, especially at home. So, my only sources of knowledge at that point were schoolbooks, the local newspapers and stories from various novels that I finally read.
Until age 17, I never owned any devices. My 3rd sister gifted me a smartphone as she celebrated her new job and congratulated me for doing well in my GCSEs. Until then, I had been using my mom’s old Samsung U800 so she could contact me as I commuted around the city alone for extra classes. So, by the time I turned 18, I was still living a medieval lifestyle with limited exposure to the Internet and, in fact, unaware of the majority of general technical advancements other than smartphones or Facebook. I never was brave enough to chase my curiosity and break open things even though computer hardware at home practically became a piece of junk and my only source of entertainment to play downloaded music. When I couldn’t download new music, I found my mother’s stereo player connecting with the national FM radio channels. Six months before moving to the UK, my eldest sister again came to my rescue and gave me a new laptop that she couldn’t use as much as it was heavy to carry around. With limited or no access to the internet, one can’t really do much. However, I made use of the laptop for at least 3 months, attempting to complete creative writing in my free time, watch a little YouTube or reconnect with old school friends on Facebook.
Little did I know that my life was about to completely change soon, and 5 years down the line, I’d be pretty tech-savvy.
It has taken me years of reflection to understand and learn that our knowledge is not entirely dependent on which era we were born in. Instead, it’s a mix of how our carers nurtured our curiosity and enabled us to overcome our fears or empower our confidence in our childhood and how we find the courage to at least convince them to let go of their fears and worries and just not give up.