By Vanya Naqvi
Pakistan's senior citizens are quite the bunch. When the Coronavirus pandemic put a stop to many of their social gatherings and family debates, they had to find new ways to keep themselves entertained and busy. This week, I thought, let's try something different; reaching out to three of Pakistan's many senior citizens, I learnt their story of lockdown and the endless Zoom calls it has brought, of change and how it impacts them, but most of all, of the daily highs and lows they have with technology - something we are so very accustomed to.
Unveiling the online
At the onset of the pandemic, at least, in our household, the two grandmas seemed the most unaffected. Even though they both were expecting only to spend a month or two in Dubai before traveling on to other countries to meet the rest of the family, they didn’t complain about it much. Observing them, the rest of the house decided to take this lockdown period as a time to grow closer to each other.
Nani, Dadi, and our house help, who were becoming better friends now, kept themselves busy by teaching each other achaar recipes and practicing new knitting patterns with each other too. However, with my parents busy working from home and my brother and I caught up with remote-learning they quickly got bored with the routine. Time seemed to move slower every day until it felt like it had come to a halt altogether. All recipes known had been exchanged and all knitting techniques and patterns had been explored. On the other hand, the guidelines became more and more strict. Meeting other people became out of the question and soon it was time to introduce Nani and Dadi to Zoom, Youtube, Netflix, and the rest of the digital marvels.
For so long it was a mindset of us, the younger generation, of how hard it would be for elders to learn how to use the web and adjust. “Wo kiyaa kaaray gae?” was the main concern. However, as soon as the voice training with Siri began all we heard all day was “Hey Siri,” from my Nani’s room, often followed by, “Aamm ka achaar nikaal de”. It took some time to explain to her that Siri wasn’t like a person to who you could mention the entire command. Eventually, she became accustomed to carefully thinking of what she wanted and picked out the keywords before repeating them to Siri. In the evenings when both Nani and Dadi became fed up with cake rusk and tea, the outcome always ended up becoming, “Hey Siri, zeeray ke biscuit.” Hundreds of biscuit recipes would pop up and they would try a new one every week until all the jars in our house were full of failed attempts and our tummies full of the successful ones. It wasn’t long before we realized that, if they are shown how to use it effectively, the online space we have access to do have something for everyone.
Learning never ends
While my Nani tested out her new recipes, my Dadi got ready for her online Arabic lesson. Before the pandemic, her class was in-person, but now it had moved online to Zoom. Something that seemed to always trip her up was zoom. Zoom, its ten-digit code, and the password,
“Ye badalta kiew rehtaha hai?” and we would all explain the security reasons for it changing. Despite this, she wasn’t to blame when her Arabic lesson’s group would fluctuate between sharing the instructions to join the meeting with either the link or code, never agreeing on just one.
However she was also starting to get the hang of things since previously, “Awaaz kiew nahi aarahi?” was also a popular question. However, after being directed to the volume buttons the first few times, she would ask the question then press the volume button herself before I could help. It was incredible that she was getting to a point where previously asked questions were clearing up in her head and daily progress was being made.
Alone but united online
Most of us spend large proportions of our day on our mobile phones and 86 year-old Mrs. Ali is no different. She says the main use of her phone is to make personal calls to her son and his family, however, she does want to learn how to use it beyond that. In the bustling city of Karachi, Mrs. Ali lives alone in a studio apartment so unlike my Dadi and Nani, she can’t shout for her grandchildren when the tech-world seems to be conspiring against her. She says wistfully, “bachaay dil kay tookray ho tay hai.”
“From time to time,” Mrs. Ali explains, “I do tap around my phone in frustration and I’m lucky if what I was looking for does pop up.” Despite this daily struggle, she has found a way to access the news. To keep in touch with the outside world, she skims the news articles on webpages while isolating herself with the novel coronavirus, and the scare of a possible second lockdown in mind. However, she is quick to add that in fact within the news she is not as interested in politics as she is intrigued by the culture articles, “I like to see how much the world is changing.” She is curious about facts like “who wrote the first dictionary” and with her self-deprecating humor, she also adds, “and with my bad memory sometimes I have to search up the same fact fifty times.” Alongside this, since she is a retired gynecologist she tries her best to keep up with recent medical breakthroughs, developments, and findings whenever she can.
In addition to the news, while she is trying to get lucky by tapping around, sometimes her wish is to read the biographies of past poets and musicians. Other times, she is getting sick of her routine neck and back physiotherapy exercises so is trying to looking for new ones online. However, she is seldom successful and ends up video calling her son instead. She repeats that if it were her way and her phone was “cooperative” with her she would play old Indian songs that she enjoys, listen to Qawalis and follow new exercise videos for a much-wanted change. She zealously talks about how most people in Pakistan are getting accustomed to the pandemic by shopping for groceries online and aims to learn how to do the same soon. Nevertheless, she says that, currently, the piece of technology which has helped her habitually and unconditionally is her TV remote.
Even though some might have lately started using technology independently, it can be said with confidence that Pakistani seniors ensure that they are not left behind as the world moves into the new digital era. Beyond the stereotype of seniors spending their retired life meeting their friends, some have found platforms to carry on their research and continue learning to broaden their existing body of knowledge. Others have also found ways to refine a past skill or learn new skills without having to read heavy books, but instead, just surf the web for additional guidance.