Monday, December 20, 2010

Virtually alive

The other day I had this pop up on my Facebook page: “Aditi will die at the age of 96.” It got me furious. Not that I didn’t want my moon-faced friend to live that long; the point was that she was sitting in Pune’s German Bakery last Valentine’s Day, on the table that had a bomb under it, and had lost a painful battle to death. That nerd Zuckerberg had no right to remind me of that with a rude, impossible prediction like that. I closed the window with an agitated left click and started to look for distraction on YouTube.
But it didn’t leave me; and I wanted to know how the update appeared. I logged back in.
Ten minutes is long enough for a mob reaction in the virtual world. By now I had a furious couple of supporters who wanted to know what had effected the update. But what surprised me was the five ‘Likes’ the post had got. Just why would you like to be reminded of how the prettiest girl in the world had fallen victim to a terrorist act, an act we escapists-by-default think always happens in a place called somewhere else.
And then a comment appeared, by some Jyoti: “I told you Aadu, you cannot die before me. See, I have proof now J” Another one: “And you thought you could hide, Aditi… hunh. Gotch ya!” A mini deluge followed. It was as if at least 15 of her adult friends actually thought she was alive, or were deluding themselves to believe the Net had made it to Heaven (or wherever angels go back to).  
There is this religious belief about life after death, but I was sure Facebook was the last means spirits would register their presence through. This was ineffable. Why aren’t these kids angry at this, I thought, and called Aditi’s BFF Bindiya.
She wasn’t surprised. In fact it was she who had the password and had taken a quiz that claims to tell your longevity based on your choice of colour and nightclub. The quiz thought she was Aditi. “This is so damn stupid. She is dead, you know,” I snapped. “Shut up! You don’t have to tell me that,” she snapped back, yelling as I appeared to utter another word, “This is my way of keeping her alive. Go to hell if you don’t like it.” Bang!
A non-believer, I was shaken out of reality. Her argument made me argue with myself for at least 15 minutes. But I lost to the romantic inside me. That non-cynic Me said why not try the delusion, and I picked up the mouse.
Simer had succumbed long ago to a concoction of urban angst and pressures modern day jobs bring. But I figured the noose he had put around his neck, had failed to snuff out his being. His Facebook profile page had a cow he had ‘won’ for his Farmville. Pink, she was mooing; maybe she knew something I didn’t. Obviously he too had a friend keeping him alive, but it was surreal. I posted a belated birthday wish for him.
I moved on to Arpan’s page. “Now here’s a guy who knows how to have fun,” I thought. The editor in me rapped me on the knuckles, “Wrong tense! He knew, not knows.” But Facebook didn’t agree. The page had updates; it told me Arpan -- who in the real world had been shot in a fatal mishap -- had downed a virtual double martini last night, as an animated Deep Throat Debby gave him a lap dance.
I couldn’t resist a smile, then a chuckle, and then I burst out laughing, tears blurred my view as I thought: Some people just don’t change, and will not die, at least not as long as this wonderful Other World exists.

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An atrociously edited version of this piece appeared in HT dated December 20, 2010.

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