My friend just gave me a virtual key to his house
When cable television made it to our living room, it brought with it HBO and Star Movies. Courtesy of which, I began to consume Hollywood flicks and learnt and unlearnt many things. At the same time, I also began to believe that the ideal and safest place to leave the key to one’s home was under the ‘Welcome’ doormat at the entrance or in the special nook at the top of the front door. You would want those kids in Evil Dead to be able to enter the abandoned house and feel safe, right?
Of course, the hiding keys in plain sight was only limited to Hollywood. We lived in New Delhi, which is forever struggling to earn the ‘safe city’ title. Mom and dad each had a set of the home keys that they carried in their bags. I tried to argue against the mat by giving the example of Hollywood films, with Oscar-winning filmography references, but failed.
My sister and I went to the same school, and the assumption that the oldest is more responsible ensured that she had one copy too. Mum put the keys in a pouch, which she hid in her school bag. If we returned home before mum who taught in a different school, only then were we to reach for the pouch. It was our big family secret and we guarded it well. I can still hear mum give us standing instructions about opening the door, “Always look through the keyhole, then open the chain, and finally unbolt the door.” It was a golden rule that we were never to overlook. We enjoyed the process, especially because everyone looked funny through the keyhole.
When I left home to study and later for work, I noticed that my friends were not so big on the secret. My friends in Mumbai gave a key to their house help and cook. These key-bearers would clean and dust, chop and sauté, while the owners were at work. The concept was new to me. My friends, who were in relationships at that time, were quick to suggest that I had trust issues. Apparently, as a result, I would remain single for a long time, they predicted.
As years passed, I began to learn more about keys. Indian soap operas and rituals suggested that handing over keys to the next in line (to the throne!) was an act of grave importance and once again, trust. Losing the pair of keys meant the chaabiwala (locksmith) was to be called. He’d arrive with more than a hundred bunches of keys and magically open the door. He was also skilled at installing a new lock. On the streets of Chandigarh, where I spent quite a few years of my working life, this chaabiwala was a permanent fixture. He’d walk the streets with a singsong call offering his services. Apparently, he made a decent living. So then, enough people were misplacing their keys, I gathered.
All these memories seem to be coming from a time very long ago. Last week, I received a notification on my smartphone. It read: a friend has invited you to their August Smart Lock.
If you’ve been following my tales, you’d know I steer away from technology, whilst my friends and husband are knee-deep in the same. A week before this notification popped up, we were to visit the friend for lunch. He was running errands and got stuck in traffic. We happened to reach his place a few minutes earlier than him, and well, he let us into his house — with his smart lock! Of course, he and the husband spent the next few minutes discussing the cool quotient of the same. In the process, I learnt about Amazon Key. How does it work? You get a phone alert when delivery may occur. If you are not home, the delivery person will tap on the app and you can grant him/her one-time access to unlock your door, place the package inside, and then relock the door. WHAT? My eyes popped out.
Suddenly, my keys with their pretty keychain felt so small, unwanted. With keys of this sort, one could lock and unlock the door with Bluetooth, control keyless access and keep track of who comes and goes, all via the phone. I will need time to digest all this.
This is taking the surprise, privacy, and security to another level. And also, trust.
Today, I own the virtual key to my friend’s home. Of course, it’s exciting. I can raid his refrigerator at any time. I am also taking pride in the fact that I am a trust-worthy, great friend. But it’s making me uncomfortable too. With everything changing, of course, entry to the homes had to change too. Keyholes had to give way to wireless front-door cameras. We’re comfortable sharing the most relevant or irrelevant details of our lives with the world. The cameras are working 24 X 7. But, are we as smart as smart locks, apps, and phones? I am yet to find out.
My key is sitting hidden in a pouch in my bag as I write this. Another key to a friend’s home is on my phone. I will continue to worry and be alert. My responsibilities just doubled. And just like that, I have another home to go to, too. I guess that makes me both extremely fortunate and faddish.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.