Neela sat down with her laptop to surf the net for Telugu stories and poems. Her father had given the computer to her as she had started Computer Science classes in college the previous year. Her mother never liked it though. Up until that time, Neela and her mother had always talked, laughed, and bickered over little things then made up. They'd been more like two teenagers rather than mother and daughter, until now. Ever since Neela got the laptop, things changed; Neela would sit and ogle the computer screen, enjoying her own private moments for hours on end, all by herself.
For her mother, the room turned frighteningly quiet.
"I'm going to auntie's next door. Viswam uncle may come to visit us. Talk to him. I'll be back soon," her mother said.
"What can I say to him? He is twice my age," Neela said.
"He is a human being unlike that sruti box," her mother said. That's what she called the laptop, a "sruti": a drone.
Neela shook her head briskly and turned to the story on the screen. She was a habitual reader and the net offered her a wide range of selections to quench her thirst. She had even written a couple of poems and posted them.
The icon on the lower left corner chimed announcing new mail. She clicked on it.
Your poem is beautiful. I enjoyed it a lot. I see you're perceptive. -- Radha
Neela was happy to see the first mail of commendation on her writing.
Within a few seconds, she received another mail.
I was wondering if you had written more poems. Are they available on the web?
Neela was surprised and amused. She replied, smiling.
Oh, no. Just started. Actually, this is the first that's caught anybody's eye.
Then she signed off for the day.
Did you see this? What'd u think?
Neela included the link and clicked on "send."
Funny, I was thinking the same thing. What'd you think of the poem? replied Radha.
Messages on the poem flew back and forth. Between the two, Neela started feeling like she was learning something new about poetry and Radha was elated that she found somebody to share her thoughts.
That was the beginning of their daily dialogue via LCD
screen. Personally, they'd never met and known nothing about
What are u doing? u also a CS student?
Radha thought of asking what CS meant, but didn't. She didn't feel like writing that she was no student, CS or any other for that matter.
I'm studying CS in Hyderabad, 2nd year
Neela hoped to get a reply on par with hers.
Oh, I see. I am in America, and wondering about the same -- what am I doing here?
Neela looked at the emoticon and smiled. For a second, she wondered if she was asking for trouble. Could this person be a net prowler or a wacko? Then she pondered over other possible scenarios: Radha said she had attended college for one year. Maybe while she was in her second year, she had one of those supersonic weddings. Lately it has become common for young Telugu men to come home on a two-week vacation, find a bride and marry right away. Traditionally, it could take months even years to arrange a marriage. But now, there is always a pundit who could find a super auspicious moment ("sumuhurtum") per lunar calendar to perform the wedding within the same two weeks any time of the year.
Neela persuaded herself not to worry; her gut feeling told
her so. After all, there was no denying that she'd been having
interesting conversations with this person, regardless of who's
Did you read THE CLEAR DAY OF LIGHT? Radha asked.
Today, I saw the movie "Chak de India". Do u get Indian movies there? said Neela.
For a couple of weeks now they'd been exchanging emails. Radha sat in front of the computer and went over the emails again:
Movies -- old and new
Songs -- old and new
Favorite movie stars -- two generations apart
She remembered the game of four-poles she and her friends
used to play in her village. Four kids stand holding on to four poles
like the four bases in baseball, and run from pole to pole. A fifth
kid tries to knock out one of them while running from one pole to
the next. No two kids could hold on to the same pole at the same
Neela had not received her daily email in two days. She sat there staring at the mailbox on the lower left corner of the screen. There was mail but not the one she was waiting for. Finally, she decided to send one herself.
Hello, what're u doing?
She waited for a few minutes. There was no response. She was getting restless. Was Radha busy with something important? Out of town? Left in a hurry? Fell ill? Couldn't she send a line before leaving?
Somewhat disconcerted, she kept surfing the web. There was a story she knew Radha would enjoy very much. It was by one of her favorite writers.
Hesitantly she clicked on "Compose."
Hey, Radha, I just finished reading, UNDER THE MANGO TREE, by Sankaran. Did u see that? What'd ya think?
After an hour or so, the mailbox flashed. Neela's heart raced.
Ammamma ("Grandmother") is sick.
It was a while before Neela got another message. Then arrived another mail.
Ammamma likes you very much.
It didn't make sense. Who was sick, Radha or her grandmother?
Are ya ok?"
Now Neela was really confused. There is more to it than she had known or so it seemed.
What'd ya mean?" she emailed back.
Neela was dumbstruck. It started making sense, vaguely. She pulled herself together and wrote:
I didn't know she is your grandma.
Neela was going to type in "Don't worry." The screen chimed again.
Is it okay if I mail you? Ammamma tells me everything u two talk.
Neela replied quickly.
Yes, of course, u can rite to me. Tell me how's she doing. btw, what's your name?
Neela burst into a big laugh. She was chatting with a boy not even half her age!
Rahul went off like a volley of tennis balls from a shooter, typing away how Ammamma had been afraid even to touch the keyboard and how he had showed her to log in. He said he had given her his ID and showed her how to surf the web for Telugu stories, write comments, and send emails. At first, ammamma was shy since her English was not good. He told her that there are no grammar rules on the net, and showed her even to put the emoticons in her messages.
Neela began to mull over with a big grin: Why didn't Radha garu tell me that she was twice my age? Afraid that I might not want to talk to an older woman? How can I tell her I did not think she was old, not even for one second. But then again, maybe she may have gotten that impression when I mentioned about the little conversation I had with mother about Viswam uncle.
Neela decided to leave the things as they were. It is beautiful that Radha enjoyed their friendship. Suddenly something else crossed her mind. She quickly turned the computer on and emailed Rahul.
Don't tell ammamma about this little conversation. Okay? It's going to be our little secret.
That night, Neela jotted down in her diary, "Today I found a new friend. I can say he is 'my little friend.'"
The illustration, "Little Friend" is © Rambabu Arle, all rights reserved
appears here by permission.