‘I Need No Paint Brushes!’

by Archita Suryanarayanan

Archita Suryanarayanan spots a child doing up a drawing on his mother’s smartphone.The incident prompts her to mull over how mobile phones draw people more and more into a virtual world particularly with their technological excellence. She writes down her thoughts in a piece of non-fiction.

I dipped a brush into a bottle of blue paint, and then into water in a small steel bowl, watching a circle of light blue form around the brush. And then, I ran it across a sheet of white paper, watching a line of dark blue streak the blank sheet. This was a decade back.

Now I see a child seated opposite me in the train, he is using his mother’s tablet-phone. He is selecting from digital boxes of colours and draws using his forefinger after selecting a brush thickness. There is no mess of paint, no newspaper underneath that is filled with test streaks of various shapes, no bowl of water that attains green-grey hues after the odd mix of colours dipped onto it. There is no palette where the black paint remains stubbornly unwashed, no assortment of brushes lying about.

I peep a little and watch what the child is drawing on the tablet- the ‘scenery’ we all drew over and over again in our childhood. The two mountains, neat equilateral triangles, and the sun rising perfectly from the centre with long, spiky rays. There are three birds flying amidst a couple of clouds, a narrow, meandering river in front of which is a small hut. The hut has a tiny door and symmetrical windows, and a spire of smoke rises up from the chimney. There’s also a stick figure of a boy standing, watching the fish in the river.

The boy inside the drawing has never seen a phone. There are no telephone lines outside his house, and there are no gadgets constantly beeping inside. His mother is not checking recipes on a smartphone while cooking, and then sharing a picture of the cooked delicacy with a hundred people thousands of miles away. No one in his little world is using that little device that can be kept in your pocket and allows you to ‘connect’ with thousands in the virtual world, but cuts you off from the real world. ‘Sharing’ for the boy inside the drawing means dividing a sweet in two to give a friend; he has not heard of virtual ‘sharing’ – his experiences are not instantly communicated to a bunch of people who couldn’t care less. He has ten friends who play with him under the skies, who lie on the grass with him and count stars at night.

To him, memories include a sign scratched on a rock behind the house, not seventy photographs clicked on a smart phone that do nothing to immortalise the moment. Laughter is shouting out with cheer while playing a game or throwing stones into a river, not typed hollow-sounding syllables or graphical smileys. His ‘group’ is not a set of individuals who use an ’app’ that gets them chatting with each other while they forget real people around them but folks who hang about when it really matters.

His ‘group’ ran on the fresh sand leaving footprints that weren’t digital. They looked at the clouds and spotted whimsical animals, they woke up to bird sounds and smelt the change in seasons through the flowers, they dreamt, they imagined, for they couldn’t always see. They read books about secret passages and magic potions and saw the secret passages and magic potions in their heads.They heard stories of African jungles and saw the thickets of trees in their heads. They didn’t ‘google’ everything on a smartphone, they didn’t need ‘apps’ to teach them colours, they saw their first green on an early morning leaf and their first lilac in the evening sky.

The train halted at a station and the child drawing the picture ‘saved’ the picture on the phone and got down; he would not look at it again. He would not have dusty sheets of paintings stored under a bed in his house. He will not discover it one day ten years later and smile at his childish strokes. His painting will soon be lost in the digital labyrinth. As will his innocence, as will his experience of the real  world.

Archita Suryanarayanan is an avid reader and aspiring writer, a student of journalism and an architect. A mixture of opposites, for her, the mundane often becomes magical. She hopes to capture through writing, those fleeting moments that make everything else worth it.

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