Thursday, 6 March 2008

not on my watch

i was on my usual commute to office, made dreary by the fact that i was riding in my friend's car, and my mind began wandering at the traffic stops. almost simultaneously my friend and i spotted a guy riding pillion on a scooter checking his watch for the time. that's when the thought struck me.. where did all the watches go? when did watches stop being cool?

i stopped wearing one two years back, and most people around me arent wearing one, now that i think of it. i relied on other means for the time, i guess. and that meant either the computer i was sitting in front of, or the mobile phone i carried. i guess i must have subconsciously thought that carrying two devices with overlapping purposes was kinda redundant. but i still never imagine a day would come when i'd have nothing on my left wrist, not even the tell-tale tan mark that appears on days your watch has to meet its maker for repairs to its magical innards.
that magic was what attracted me to watches in the first place. i can remember when i was six, i yearned for a watch. one, maybe two guys in class had one. the situation wasn't much different when i turned eight. thats when i got my first watch, and a digital one at that. it was nothing fancy, dad had bought it for 45 bucks on an official trip to chennai, but i was proud of it to the extent that i resented that my brother, younger to me by a year, got one at seven years of age. it had a basic rectangular dial that displayed nothing more than the time, and it had an alarm feature that needed a monkey's fingers to operate, and emitted a squeak so feeble that mice would have called it a noob. but, oh coolest of cool, it had a reflective golden glass all around that dial, and easily won all those contests where we reflected sunlight off the dials and onto the walls to see whose reflections were the best.

my first proper watch was gifted to me by my grandmother. again, my brother got an identical one, but by now i had resigned myself to my fate :D. my grandfather had got the two watches as mementos after attending some united nations function, and in the dial it had a pretty detailed world map. there were no numbers to indicate the hour or minute, just needles over a map. and i thought it was wicked cool, and i remember pretending that it was a compass and that i was navigating with the world map printed on it. but sadly, this watch wasnt built to last on the arm of an eleven year old schoolkid whose mom had (oh horror) considered nicknaming him chanchal since he just couldnt sit still. the watch just fell to bits.

this was also the first watch whose innards i saw. i considered myself pretty smart at that age, in that i understood how an electric motor worked, and i had made a few toys using motors. but the inside of a watch stumped me. it posed the biggest challenge to understand how it worked, and to date im not sure i have it licked. and to add to my misery, all sorts of watches started pouring in.. self winding ones, temperature powered ones, motion powered ones.. it was always easy explaining the digital watch with a sort of ghost-in-the-machine explanation, but the universe of cogwheels inside conventional watches transfixed me for years, now that i think of it..

i also owned an hmt, which was the first proper watch that my dad bought me. i remember going to the watch shop with a budget of one thousand in mind, big money for a 14 year old, and looking at the maze of watches. it was the time when the ugly(in retrospect), outsize g-shock watches had captured our collective imaginations, and everything from timers to databanks were going into a watch. we talked excitedly about the day when you could watch tv on a watch, blissfully unaware of that usurper, the mobile phone. i looked long and hard at a casio digital watch that came for eight hundred, but i settled for the hmt that was for five hundred fifty. dont ask me why. my next watch was a gift from my aunt when i finished my plus two and got admitted to nid. it stayed on and off with me through those years, and now lies discarded in a corner of my room.

the last encounter i had with my watch was when i purchased one for my father. i decided to go in for a reasonably priced citizen watch, not too cheap, not too flashy either. i dont know if he wears it, but the fact of the matter is that he had three gifted watches lying around at that time. i havent bothered to check either.

and the coolest memory i have is of my first watch. it didnt last me more than 45 days, and at roughly 1 rupee per day, it didnt really pay for itself by the standards of those days. but when it died, i swear it did a sort of countdown.. the minute display went from 07 to 00 and then it went blank. that made my day, setting of my imagination in the direction of rocket launches..and the fact that it happened in the sixth period, one of the dreariest in the afternoon, ensured that i remember it to this day.
and no other watch was worth more to me.

so where did my watches go? i have no idea. why did i give up on them? or have i given up on them? i cant come up with any specific thing against watches, nor do i think they are uncool. maybe i just got too caught up in the problems of reality to be able to spare time for the mysterious innards of a timekeeping machine.
i guess these watches were defining certain milestones in my life, though it may sound like an old hmt ad. which got me thinking, whats the next? oh yeah, i havent got a watch for myself, with my own money. that's the one left. one of these days... :)

edit : funnily enough, when i sent this out to friends on gmail, adsense placed ads for russian pilots' watches.. i wonder if its trying to tell me something :P