the mind is a messy place. nothing comes to it in a simple clear way. thoughts rush or meander or just walk by aimlessly, sometimes they crash, they burn, then again thoughts and more thoughts.
i am sitting here this morning, staring at my computer screen, letting this ride of thoughts go on. not that i can stop it. i am perhaps lonely, a little disturbed. something from last evening lingers. a tremor in the brain, in the heart. i want my mind to focus, think of something that is of use, that has a direction.
should i write about sarees? always engages my mind. i am staring at the computer screen. an imac.
was it 1991 or 1992 that i saw a computer that said hi to me? bangalore, my first job as a copywriter. a big bulky computer on my desk. first time such a machine anywhere near me. press f1, press f2… green type on black screen. a little stodgy. wordpress? think it was called that, the software.
every once in a way, a call to the mac room. an airconditioned cubicle with glass all around, where the macs sat and only those who were allowed to touch them were allowed entry. not lowly new copywriters. not usually.
only when some copy corrections had to be made and the superior beings who were in communion with the mysterious machines needed that pointless thing called copy changed, and they wouldn’t deign to do such menial tasks, were writers given access. of course, you had to take your shoes off before entering this hallowed precinct. it’s a miracle we weren’t barred from exhaling.
i walked in, i remember, and the boss of the mac room with his usual surly expression, nodded towards a tiny computer in the corner, next to one of the splendid large ones with magical colours on the screen. it was a small but tall machine, not the usual rectangular shape, horizontal longer than vertical. was the other way round. i was told to switch it on, i dutifully must have.
the screen came on… grey. then a little computer appeared on it. a line drawing. a word popped up. hi.
a computer had just greeted me. not a computer. no. a mac.
why do i remember this so well? did i break into a smile? that first meeting with the mac? it was a a mac se i think, just read se means “system expansion”. or was it a compact macintosh classic? whatever it was, that computer spoke to me and smiled. no press f1, press f2, and blinking green cursor.
mr jobs was not even at apple at the time. forced out and in exile practically. but his thoughts, how do you banish those? once they’re out, they’re out, and influencing someone, somewhere… certainly the mac design engineers.
later he’d return to apple, play his own games, and save the company, take it to unbelievable financial heights… trillion would enter the corporate jargon and ambition. but by then i’d read insanely great, a gift from my husband, because ever since that hi from a computer i’d been muttering about this man called steve jobs.
and i don’t really care about corporate men. the only other one i’d found interesting was akio morita, because sony was the first tv i’d seen, and my father had bought a sony record player back in 1974 with much joy, also given my brothers and me a sony cassette player each for he was convinced if we taped our lessons and heard them as we read, we’d absorb information better, it would make for more thorough studying. then there was the walkman. so when mr morita’s made in japan came out during those initial days of books by not authors but company executives, i did read it, and enjoyed it a lot. but i didn’t go on about him. about steve jobs i did. so jacob got me that book.
i don’t remember exact words or moments, but while reading insanely great i felt a thrill that stayed on. someone who thinks of what’s to come. and doesn’t let anything get in the way of it. certainly not the usual tings that businesses apply to gauge a situation, read a market, plan the next.
a man with an instinct and a cocky crazy faith in himself. hard to restrain, hard to perhaps even like.
in later browsings, i read somewhere, he dated two women at once and would ask his friends whom should he go with, the looker or the other one. think he went with the latter and was happy too. there was of course lisa, the computer named after the daughter with whom he hardly had a relationship till much later. there was the experimenting with drugs, even the not at all enamoured of india side, and i am touchy about that. yes, a flawed man… as perhaps we all are.
but that other side of him. those thoughts of his. that looked straight at what is to come. not burdened by memory or tradition, almost crystal gazing. i can’t stop my heartbeats from picking up pace when i think of this.
and where he took it. and how.
we moved to singapore in november 1997, and i started working with an ad agency soon after that. in 1999, i left my job and went to jordan for a six month assignment. on my return, i joined the singapore agency again. when i walked into my office, there was this computer sitting on my desk, which looked nothing like a computer. it was a cross between a lozenge and a spaceship. colourful, translucent, snazzy, futuristic, asking me to bite into it and zoom off into outer space with spock and scotty. it was the first imac, mine was in teal green, a hand me down from my boss. this was steve jobs’s first computer after his return to apple.
2001 onwards came one after another things that would change our lives, literally forever. not just computers, every time a new idea. itunes, ipod, iphone… he was reshaping apple for the next century, he seemed to know where he would take it – not just the company, the future.
no one might have gone there before. first officer spock may not be at hand, but a man who was difficult to work with, who wasn’t even an engineer, who didn’t create technology, who was accused of stealing (how many times i’ve heard the gui or icon was not his idea, he saw it at xerox, he filched it… ok, but who, who, who saw its use, its possibilities, its place in our lives, i feel like screaming), who was accused of making too expensive everything, who made things look unnecessarily good, who had dropped out of college, who was gimmicky, whose desk was really messy (perhaps his thoughts even?)… and who was no one’s ideal candidate for messiah or changer of our world, he went ahead and did it anyway.
i think of his last invention, the iphone. look what it’s made possible.
from looking up recipes, to playing games, to keeping an eye on the child at home, to searching up information, to paying bills, banking, chatting, showing off, dating, doodling, brooding, calling cabs, checking time, reading the market, farmers get links to markets on their phones, politicians persuade voters through social media, migrant labourers speak to their family as and when they please, children away from home – in the same city or on another continent – keep in touch all the time (when my father went to toronto to study back in 1952, think he made two or three phone calls home in those three years; when i came to singapore in 1997, i paid hundreds of dollars on phone calls every month, now my daughter is in london, and we chat when we like for free, just the time difference in the way of things), tv correspondents cover news on specially engineered phone, photographs fly across cyber space on instagram… isn’t the phone in every interface, in every act of ours?
the smartphone crosses barriers we’ve never dreamed of crossing before.
without that iphone, would there be this now so familiar word, app? and all that apps do and we do with them? akio morita made music mobile. steve jobs perhaps knew the power of that mobility. he took a phone and made it something scotty would be in charge of in spaceship enterprise. oh, you can also make phone calls with it.
things he conceived of were not just for the “higher” or niche needs, nor just for the rich and the famous. they were for everyone, each one of us. many may not be able to afford an iphone, but once the idea was realised, manufacturers with cheaper options were bound to come along. and of course they did.
he made this esoteric and dare i say unpretty looking realm of information and its technology into an easy cool thing, meant for everyone, within reach, refreshing, like coca-cola. actually , much more… part of us.
one man’s way of thinking, and an entire species’s today and tomorrow are different. changed the course of things i keep thinking. in ways not yet fully known or understood.
just five years older than me. died at 55, having done what he did. i miss him. sometimes with a great long sigh.
wonder what he would have done next. i keep the iphone 5, the last phone he launched with that black turtleneck and blue jeans look, because it was his last. three years after i bought it, the battery started giving trouble, i took it to the shop. sorry, they said, this model had a problem, so we are replacing the batteries for free. yesterday, i noticed again the battery was working just fine.
my thoughts are all over the place, reflected in the writing.
think of it as notes.
sometimes there’s more honesty at this level of writing.
but why a saree for mr jobs? maybe because i missed him just now and since i am wearing a saree this evening, my friday saree, why not for him? also, the other day i read, the jacqard loom invented in 1801 by joseph jacqard, is the first machine to use punch cards to instruct a machine to do certain tasks. this knowhow would later be used in the development of computers. i love handloom and resist overuse of jacquard looms, but they have brought a lot of ease and economy to fabric, even saree, weaving.
so, which saree? i am reminded of his think different campaign. the commercial with black and white pictures of remarkable men and women who changed our world. he insisted on the black and white, think he had many of their shots in his room.
i have this patola in b/w. it must be the one.
here’s to you, mr jobs…
sarees tell stories | patola from bandhej, bangalore, around 2001
what have they done to my iphone