Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Musings on a Berlin afternoon

Initial apprehensions shoved aside, there was this burning determination in me to find out what makes a person tick in a strange environment. Are we really as social as we think? After the simple streets of Fort Collins, CO where you could not meet someone’s eyes without exchanging a “hi” Berlin felt aggressively hostile to me. Eyoo..what a country bumpkin I had transformed into. It was not that Berliners were not nice people. It was just that they were city folks and as any Bombayite or New Yorker would quip, who has the bloody time? But this is a different time and age. The age when the earth is a mere few seconds in diameter. Surely we are not slaves to such archaic concepts such as distances? Surely virtual connections were all that one needed?

Then it was in a supermarket that I learnt a certain truth about myself.

I had wandered everywhere the previous couple of days, unable communicate with anyone in this very international yet fiercely German city. The people I knew had been reduced to international phone numbers. Faces with voices emanating directed at me were mere images in my head. And the checkout girl at Kaiser’s.

The grocery store was similar to any that can be found in a western society. Gleaming bottles of preserves, various cheeses, meats, boxes of cereal. I walked in the aisles trying out my ability to connect English with German, and stubbornly (read stupidly) not use a dictionary. A good quarter hour later, my basket was bursting with groceries and my mind with the need to talk to someone. Maybe the girl at the checkout counter? I still hoped.

She calculated the prices and looked up at me. Ooh maybe she will speak English and I could ask about the weather. Or something else. I cleared my throat, ready.

“Drei und zwanzig Euro bitte.”

Sigh. No point.

And then suddenly there appeared around the counter an old couple, obviously tourists. A soprano voice rang out,“ What time does the shop close?”

Ping! English! Finally! Whoo hoo. Quick! Someone else might answer and then there goes your chance to talk to a real face! I almost fell over the counter, my groceries tumbling off, and tore my vocal chords.

8 pm!

Desperation won the day.

Later, I did meet Berliners who spoke flawless English and became great friends. But that day at the supermarket was an eye opener to a tech lover like me. Whoever said that in these days of mobile phones and internet, one does not require human touch to survive needed to get his head examined.

It was then that it struck me. No man is an island. Is it natural to just talk to a phone? To type endless messages in the chat window? To just write emails all day or order groceries online, or buy things off of ebay? The need to see people, hear them breathe, feel the swish of fabric as they walk past you, is very strong and very real.

To see sunshine on faces and hear familiar tones of voices.

All so essential for the survival of sanity.


  1. You write so well. I think you are in the wrong profession :) :)
    My blogs seem like kid stuff after reading yours..

  2. Your skaypisms are very heartfelt. As for the 'human touch'...I cannot agree more.

  3. I see that one evening was a poignant moment in your life.. Very interesting perspectives SK. Keep chugging on..hope to read more on here!

  4. Technology is an aid, not a substitute ;-). And for an animal that has defined "intelligence" and thus considers itself to be the most intelligent, perhaps, just perhaps, it might find solace in knowing that the (s)he can talk, touch, feel another of it's species and alleviate it's fears. Maybe that's why technology and the "professional service" may not substitute the human touch.

    The corner grocer has something more than just grocery ;)

    Cool stuff.

  5. Sangi - it was the same for me when I first moved to Pune 5 years ago - I did not even realize what I was missing - till I met Abhijat at Pune univ and spoke to him like there was no tomorrow. Technology is only a poor substitute that cannot replace the smile, the warmth or the empathy of a friend just as an online library cannot replace the joy of holding a hardcover book, the magic of turning pages or even the sheer wonderful smell of old books! Write more!

  6. Way to go sk !!!!...
    A unique piece as unique as you !



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