Gained in Translation: Running out of charge

A ‘charger’ isn’t a mere object now, it’s a concept, and not just one related to gadgets.

Written by Binod Ghoshal | Updated: July 8, 2018 8:43:37 am
Charger, charging, recharging, chargable batteries, technology, Indian express column I wasn’t to know then that one day, life would be all about charging and recharging. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

Sitting at my writing table, I recalled a film that I watched recently: a six-minute 3D animated film titled Charging Batteries. In the film, an elderly woman receives a parcel at her village home with a brief letter from her son, who lives abroad, and who can’t make it home that year. Because she needs someone to take care of her, he has sent her a rather splendid gift. On opening the parcel, she discovers a dinky little robot.

The gadget becomes her daily companion, doing whatever needs to be done around the house. In the evening the two sit in the verandah and watch the sunset. One day at the dinner table, she notices that the robot is drooping, and realises it needs to be recharged. She takes out the metal pocket in the middle of its chest and replaces the old battery with a new one, and it is instantly revived. And life goes on.

One day, she receives a pair of tickets to the circus in the post and, wanting to take the robot to the circus, explains to it what a circus is. The boy toy is delighted at the prospect, but the very next day, she falls ill, and as her age and illness grow, there comes a day when she is unable to rise from her chair, and droops over it.

Her companion assumes she too is running out of charge, and immediately fetches a battery meant for it to insert into the pocket of her vest. Obviously, it doesn’t know that humans don’t come with replaceable batteries, just a one-time charge. Charged out, story over. No recharges.

The robot collects all the batteries it can find and places them on different parts of her body, not realising she’s dying.

In the next scene, the robot goes about its duties, alone. At sunset, it sits on the verandah, her empty chair beside it. At one point, it realises its battery is failing again, the surroundings start to blur, but there’s no one to recharge it. In its dying moments, it begins to hallucinate, and sees the woman’s motherly figure standing over it. In one hand, she clutches two circus tickets, and extends her other hand to it. The two then walk hand in hand to a circus tent in the middle of a huge field. The camera fades out from a long shot, and the mind descends into sorrow.

Watching the film on my laptop, I received repeated warnings that the machine was running out of charge and I should recharge it soon. Once it was charging, I picked up my mobile to call a friend and talk about the film, and saw that the charge was below 15 per cent. I was ordered to put it on charge immediately and I did, and then called my friend again. The conversation was cut short, however, because my prepaid account had reached zero balance. Recharge again.

It was a funny sort of day, and I couldn’t help looking back at my childhood, when the word ‘recharge’ was not one we often heard. The most we heard was that the clock battery needed changing. Then came Chinese torches, which you could electrically recharge by plugging into a socket. I received one of these as a gift from an uncle. I was very excited. No more changing batteries.

I wasn’t to know then that one day, life would be all about charging and recharging, that a large chunk of every day would be spent in ensuring that all my gadgets were adequately charged, or that my world would collapse without my mobile, laptop, inverter, iPod, digital camera, and so much else. These days you can recharge cars and bikes. A few years later, you may be able to recharge planes and trains.

A ‘charger’ isn’t a mere object now, it’s a concept, and not just one related to gadgets. For example, I’m out of charge (stamina, efficiency), or no zing in your charger (go figure), or I’ll need to recharge my body today (mostly, I’ll drink myself silly), or with a charger like her (pretty girlfriend), my battery will stay charged all day.

Almost everything can be recharged, except life itself, the one thing we’d like to charge again and again. We’re sent in with a one-time charge, which drains out every day, and then, when the warning messages start to appear, we realise we still have plenty of unused data, lots of free talk time left over. But there’s no time. There’s no recharge option. We’ve spent the prime time of life in pointless talk, pointless play, futile usage.

As the warnings beep out, a few among us try to quickly cram the things worth doing into that brief time slot still left. And when the call of the unknown arrives, ‘The person you are trying to reach is not reachable at this moment. Please try again later.’ That person is out of reach of the network area forever.

The writer won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2011. Translated from Bengali by Yajnaseni Chakraborty

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