It was a sizzling summer afternoon in Chennai. I was walking along a residential lane in T-Nagar, thanking the shady respite of the trees along the way. I spotted one of the names of the shops that had been around from my childhood, Vishu Pharmacy. From what I remembered from ten years ago, it used to have its name written in blue and white paint with a rusty shutter that would be half-closed at lunchtime. It now looked hardly recognisable, having been refurbished with a glass entrance and white countertops from where you can choose the medicine you want. Previously, all you had to do was to give Vishu maama, the owner of the pharmacy, a piece of paper with a doctor prescription and he would go magically into the depths of his shop and return with a silvery snip of tablets and a small candy if you gave a convincing puppy look. I peeked into the shop for old times’ sakes and there was his wife, Lakshmi maami, bent over a table, looking closely at a computer screen. She looked older, but was dressed the same, wearing a freshly starched cotton sari with a strand of jasmine adorning her greying hair tied in a bun. ‘Hello maami’, I said and to her credit, she just needed to readjust the spectacles on her nose and blink intently in order to place me. ‘I was just chatting with my grandson on Skype’, she proudly pointed at the webcam on top of her screen and at the screen that was showing a crying baby in diapers. After making appropriate clucking noises at the virtual baby, I was taken into the swirl of family gossip, even without asking. Both of her sons were in the US, one had done his Masters and the other a Phd, and both were married to girls from ‘good’ families. They apparently spoke with her constantly over Gtalk and Whatsapp. I smiled indulgently at her technical vocabulary. ‘You only have a Bachelors degree?’ she asked disapprovingly, emphasising on the ‘only’, when I decided to head gingerly towards the exit before it came to questioning other matters of my life that would end at the topic of the aforementioned babies.
The encounter at the pharmacy made me think though, about people in that generation who had worked hard in order to educate their child and watched with pride as the aeroplane took off to the lands of opportunities beyond. What remains now is the transfer of advice, recipes, laughter and photographs over the ether. It would be hypocritical of me to judge, what with my folks being in a similar position, but I couldn’t help wondering if this was a cause for pride, a passing phase for a generation, or something that has become a way of life. Whatever it was, I couldn’t help smiling when I passed through the shop again later at night and saw Lakshmi maami’s face engulfed in the indigo halo of the reflection from a computer screen.