A couple of weeks ago, I was doing the guilty random-online-surf-to-avoid-work thing, when my video chat icon began flashing with a call. I looked at the clock. It was past 3 a.m. I answered the call to find this guy at the other end, yelling,
“Tu kya soti nahin hain, kya??!”
Then he turned to his companion and said,
“See, I told you. She never sleeps!”
I laughed, he nodded sagely and she shook her head at the absurdity of it.
It occurred to me that I belong to the privileged generation that has these magical experiences. The generations before ours scoff and think we’ve lost it, that we haven’t known closeness, that we don’t understand life since we spend it behind glass screens. The generations after us, having been born into a digital era, don’t see anything particularly remarkable in this.
But to me, with my single Doordarshan channel and landline telephone 80s childhood, my adolescence that proved its cool with cable TV, Khatiya songs and Indipop and my young adult self that saw the dreams of the future in chatrooms – all of this is magic. Talking to somebody in a different country, with such ease (and I can even see them!) feels like magic. Being able to see bright daylight outside the window of the person I’m speaking to, while it’s past midnight where I am – this is magic. Relationships that have vanquished time and space – how can they be anything but magic?
My online association with Devesh began in June 2008, when a common friend wrote to me asking if I’d speak to her friend who was looking for some information about my industry. I was still mostly anonymous then, visible only as Ideasmith, a blog, Twitter, Facebook and an email address. I agreed and we connected and had a chat. We followed each other on Twitter, he occasionally commented on my blog and I responded. He was a slight acquaintance that it was not unpleasant to converse with.
In August 2010, I was going through my annual Facebook Friends list pruning, when I noticed a familiar name and face. I remembered him from that chat conversation but I couldn’t place why he looked so familiar. Finally, I shook off that nagging feeling of ‘Stupid, it’s all in your head’ and I wrote to him.
“This is probably a far shot but were you ever in XYZ college, Mumbai? You look a lot like someone I knew back then and he had the same name.”
“I was for 1 year! Did we hang out? I literally just knew 2 girls then“
“Bingo. I was a science student but with enough teenage angst to keep me out of the classroom and in the canteen. I used to hang out at that window on the ramp and was often seen with a girl called A. And if this helps, I used to call you Dave.“
“Jesus! Yes! It was the 3 of us that used to hang out!!!“
Now cut to February 1997. I was in my first year of college and hating every moment of B.Sc. I loved reading, music and art. Nobody around me did; they were more interested in beakers, parallax removal and calculus. I’d drift around the open space in front of the canteen, in a semi-daze that only teenagers can pull off. And I’d go in and out of surreal, intense conversations all day. One of those conversations led me to Dave. He was a friend of a friend of a friend. I don’t remember what we spoke of. I barely remember him as a stranger being introduced to me. But I clearly remember him as a close friend then.
Then summer vacation came along and we drifted back to our homes. When college began again, I didn’t see him. I didn’t know his last name or anybody else in common. This was before everyone had an email address. And in 1997, only super duper rich kids had mobile phones (well, actually it belonged to their dads and they brought it along to show off to their friends). I never forgot Dave but I had no way of reaching him again. Somebody told me that he had shifted colleges, and someone else said he had moved to Australia.
In 2010, that reply from him sent tingles down my fingers. It still does. Reconnecting with old friends over Facebook, I know everyone has one story. This is mine and it’s special to me. And since we’re part of the generation that experienced half our lives without digitalia and the other half with it, it will always feel like magic.
I wondered what he was like, 13 years later. I found out a year later when he came to India for a visit. I figured we’d have a coffee together and chat about old times for, oh about an hour. How long does one need to catch up on a 14-year-old friendship that only lasted two months? We ended up yapping through coffee, another coffee and one more. I paused wondering if I should tell him I’d only thought I’d hang out for an hour and I should call home to explain why I was late. He pulled out his phone and said,
“Wanna grab dinner and talk a bit more? You know I thought we’d only talk for about an hour or so.”
We ended up talking about life and work and relationships and friendship and technology and so many other things. It wasn’t like meeting a great new person. It was exactly like meeting an old, old friend. It felt like we were teenagers in college again, a notion that was laid rudely to rest when a bunch of ‘cool’ teeny-boppers walked past us, making a lot of noise. We made fun of them and talked about how much better we had been, at being teenagers. Then we laughed and told each other that we’d gone old.
We don’t talk often. There’s a message now and then or a tweet. Occasionally he calls and hangs up. I know it means,
“Hey, I was just remembering my friend but I don’t have anything to say right now.”
Other times we talk and he tells people that he likes listening to my ringtone more than he enjoys talking to me, so he prank-calls me.
On that video chat two weeks ago, we ended up talking about the directions our lives have taken. He told me he used to enjoy reading my blog but that he doesn’t anymore. Then things only a friend should tell you! I say ‘should’ rather than ‘can’ because the internet is full of presumptuous people and trolls. But I only take it seriously when someone whose opinion matters to me, says so. He also told me that I was wasting my life away stuck in a deadened situation. But he didn’t say it unkindly. He said it in the same breath as,
“You’ve got people who believe in you. Everybody needs a push sometime. And I’m giving you one.”
If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. And I don’t think it’s got anything to do with geography or medium.
His words made me realise that most of what I do stresses me rather than invigorates me now. Blogging, once a welcome reprieve has become a ball-and-chain around my neck. Social media, that seductive beast that once promised grand things for what I was already doing? It’s now a crass, pretentious beast full of the vultures that I thought I left behind in the corporate world. Enough now.
Last week I cleared out several social apps that I was keeping active on, ‘because I’m a social media/content professional’. I decided to stop letting my Twitter followership have anything to do with my self-esteem (so loserly, no? I know) I still love writing, even if it is not soul work. But my readers, (the real ones, not the ones like the new Twitter followers who follow me for a day and then unfollow when I don’t follow back), the people who find something about my writing resonates with them, they come here for me. Not for the snazzy template or the shareable content. They come here to connect with a human being, me. And that is what makes my world of Ideasmith, magical for me. It took a friend to point that out.
This completely unedited, messy, meandering, less-than-perfect post is for you, Dave. You can prank-call me now.