Whatsit?

Once upon a time there used to be a drawing room. And you could have friends and relatives over, sometimes uninvited, who you did not want to spend time with, but as a matter of familial courtesy, you had no choice. You had to smile at their pjs, you had to listen to their gibberish and suitably respond and sometimes say a few nonsensical things as well. The only good thing was, after some time there was a surety that the pain would be over, the people would leave for their respective homes, and you could apply the Jhandu balm and relax.

And then came whatsapp. And all serenity and peace in life was suddenly over. You not only had people you don’t know in your whatsapp room, they could talk to you whenever they wanted, whatever they wanted and you had no choice in the matter. The only advantage was, they could not see your reaction and hear your blasphemy. And you could throw away your mobile, and no one would be wiser.

Once upon a time, when emails first came into being, we were warned about chain mails and waste and viruses that would come and occupy our inbox and which we should never open as it may corrupt the computer, never to forward and more technical stuff like that.

And then came whatsapp. And you started getting all the same junk email, photos, videos which have eternal lives and keep on circulating for ever and ever and create the kind of waste you have always been warned about. And it came right to your drawing room and you felt smothered. And then you took a deep breath and thought about exiting the group. And dream about how peaceful life would have been without technology.

What do you have when 100 odd people who barely know each other but have the common factor of having graduated from the same Alma mater, come together after 25 years. In the drawing room days, you would have but met but once on the 25th anniversary, exchanged addresses and phone numbers and then forgotten each other’s existence for another 25 years or till you had Alzheimer’s, whichever was later. But now, life no longer being the same, with technology being around, everyone comes together forever on a whatsapp group and exchange meaningless posts that no one reads and follows. Trust me, if the people who share all the “things you should do for world and inner peace and your health and religion” followed 1/10th of their own advise, the world would be an infinitely better place.

Let me bust the myth about whatsapp, that it is the biggest thing since somebody said, let there be Internet. After racking my brain hard enough, I could come up with three primary uses of the app. And you can decide the usefulness based on your own priorities. First to talk to you son away in another country without spending a farthing ( sorry, still in UK mode). Second when you are shopping and cannot figure out whether to buy dress 1 or 2 or 3 or all of them, sending the images to your spouse to hear the confirmation “buy all of them”, and hence not feeling guilty. And lastly, sending new year and Diwali greetings free of cost to the entire phone book. Diwali greetings remind me, I am rather offended by those who keep on sending greetings for all the obscure occasions that happen almost every day in India, and don’t identify themselves. Just a ” best wishes on Hanuman Jayanti for you and your family” and message is over. Now the number isn’t stored in your phonebook, and the image is that of a kid/ celebrity whom you can’t place. So the dilemma of the century, do you know this person, doesn’t he/ she know you have absolutely no interest in any jayantibhai, should you ask the person his name? After lot of internal struggle you decide to ask in a small voice, do I know you? And quickly the response comes, Guess who! I give up. It is easier to just say, same to you and leave it at that.

Now we have the power to read all the jokes, first in text format, then with loads of smileys around it, then attributed to Santa-Banta, then to Jack and Jill, then husband and wife, then Tom and Jerry, and then the images start, same joke presented visually,… I am frustrated, I see these jokes in my sleep, and wake up, all drenched in sweat and trembling, (yeah it is hot too). And in every forum, the same joke gets forwarded, your college group, school friends, office, Facebook, and all jokes/fun/ whatever forums you subscribe to. Whatever happened to my privacy, when someone adds me to a group, why doesn’t the fellow ask me if I am interested and a timeout taken as a no (saves me from the internal struggle between the ardent desire to say no and the social stigma attached to it).  No, by default you get added, and then if you want to opt out, you have the next social dilemma of what will people think? Can I leave without a message pop up. Will people think I am too stuck up and unfriendly. Oh forget it, let me be there, mute it and not read anything ever.

And then it had to add videos, so now all YouTube videos are shared, all karaoke self sung songs that should have been trashed in the first place are shared. If I want to see or listen to YouTube, or Ted, I know how to type http://www.youtube.com, or whatever, you don’t have to force me. And what do you do with the 500 odd messages that you get daily? My mobile battery goes for a six, all the space in my mobile isn’t enough to store everything. Just imagine if all this was on paper, how much of mind boggling waste would we be generating. The digital world is overloaded with virtual trash. There goes my swachh mobile.

It is also a psychological torture. Other than my neck-ache, which I have been getting since I was subscribed into a few groups, sometimes, in order to be deemed an active member, you bring yourself to write something and post it. And then if there is no response for the next 10 minutes, there is this mental cycle of oh God, did I send something wrong, has it been shared before, should I remove it, why isn’t anyone responding, was it in bad taste, how can all of the 100 people be busy simultaneously, shall I exit from the grip. Uff. And my Jhandu balm is back. And the worst thing is people know whether you have read something or not, it is no longer big brother watching, everyone is watching. So it becomes a must to at least put a smiley or thumbs up after every post, especially after your mobile keyboard has given up on you. ( by the way I am still confused, in my days, showing the thumb or tongue used to be considered a taunt, cheeky, ever since the cold drink and smiley world came into existence, it seems to have become a positive reinforcement, when did the world change?).

The big fat sleepy Indian travels

A ten hour long flight is a great time to introspect, come a wee bit closer to your inner goddess ( courtesy 50 shades of whatever), catch up with some cramped sections of sleep, watch the latest movies you have missed, or write a blog, which I did. In fact I had absolutely no such intention, but I could not sleep. The flight was half empty, I was pretty tired, hence found a group of three empty seats together, which I occupied before anyone else got a similar idea.

I was feeling decidedly cold so decided to keep my long jacket on, fully zipped as I tried to make myself comfortable. After several moments of counting the sheep I had seen in Scottish highlands, when I still could not catch a couple of winks, my mind started wandering and I thought it might have been so great if the knee length coat had a gadget build in, where, if I pressed a button, the overcoat would open up from the bottom, another inner layer would come out, all the way down to the foot, and lo and behold, I would have a sleeping bag. Wouldn’t that be like cool? Then I could flop down anywhere on the floor and catch my winks, instead of trying to make a bed out of the cramped uneven too small seats.

Last two weeks, we spent going around the beautiful cities and countryside of the British Isles. As we roamed around UK, sometimes in buses, trains, tubes and flights, I noticed my entire family, and extended family nodding off in their seats. In unison, everyone’s head would drop and bob up and down with the uneven roads ( uneven roads and UK, not really), reminded me of the head bobbing dolls you place on the car dashboard. Once upon a time, I could not imagine myself sleeping on a bus, but in the current dowager status, anything is possible. Except my quiet niece, who would put her head against the window pane and go off to sleep as soon as she boarded a vehicle. Maybe to avoid talking to us mere mortals, or maybe just to sleep.

Even after coming back from the hectic weeks, my sleep starved body is still creaking and groaning. Why, why did the two weeks have to be all run and no sleep, I am so dog tired, all I want to do is lift up my legs, and die. My ageing, creaking bones, do not have the energy of my 20 yr old prodigal son, and I have hitherto refused to accept the fact. As I ran huffing and puffing, filling my days with oodles of touristy things that all Indian tourists must do when in England and other countries of similar nature. As soon as you reach the spots of the picture postcards, out come the phones and cameras, and everyone must take a independent selfie with the iconic background and then we also must remember to take pictures together, with everyone saying cheese, and my bro-in-law has to take all the random clicks where u may see the family or, maybe a finger or back or a cow or some other piece of anatomy that proves you were there when the random click was being taken. Amidst all this rigmarole, we forget to actually see the place with bare eyes, but then we middle class Indian tourists are like that only. We have to fill one moment with hundreds, never mind the quality, so long as the quantity is enough, the purpose is achieved.

And I have to tell you this one more well known fact about us, we eat, everywhere, we have to eat on the bus where the guide has explicitly told us not to, right in front of him, and he has no option but to look away as we happily munch on all the puri bhujiya, sandwiches, chips and nuts, that our backpacks are able to carry. Having hoarded all that could possibly be taken from flight and hotels, we made most optimal use of the salt and pepper sachets and coffee pouches and fruits. Since we feel hungry as soon as we board the bus, or train, our hunger pangs are directly tied to the bus engine starting, and if we are hungry, our frustrated half anglicized kids have to be hungry too. And we just don’t eat quietly, we have to ask everyone on what they want, in our usual loud voice, drowning down the guide as he tries in vain to tell us about the Vikings and the Normans. And once that is satisfied, we go back to nodding. And we have to use the wifi, wherever available, which is bloody well, almost everywhere, just in case, we don’t find it further ahead. Saying Hi all the friends who have no interest in knowing where we are, but telling them that we are touring UK, has a charm of its own, specially when you know they are sweating it out in the Indian summer.

You can make out Indian tourists from afar. They are the ones with the biggest backpacks full of Indian snacks, they have the biggest cameras and they talk loudest and they are the first to reach a spot for the selfie moment, followed by the remaining 15 in the family immediately queued up, while others wait patiently for the party to finish. We love taking the hop on hop off buses, and talking all the while, never listening to the painstakingly recorded commentary. And of course, every stop, we have to visit the toilet, कल हो न हो, except when it is a paid one, then our uretary muscles suddenly develop the courage to wait till the next stop. Which self respecting Indian is going to pay 20 Rs for a washroom visit! We are the first to leave the bus, hustling and bustling, and the last ones to come back with the self assurance of the back benchers- nobody can leave us behind.

When we are any headcount more than one, crossing the road is a project. In India, you know you can’t trust the drivers or the lights and you make a dash for dear life when you need to cross. But in UK, you cross like civilized people. Invariably we would find that 1/2 of us have crossed and gone ahead, albeit in the wrong direction, one group is waiting for the right to walk while the rest have given up on the UK road crossing system and crossed without the zebra fellow around without worrying about the buses and taxis. And then we have to use our God gifted tremendous lung power, to collect and count all of us, before repeating the scenario. By the time the trip ended, we had mastered the art of crossing with the masses.

And as soon as we feel cold, we start zipping up the jackets and blazers of our 20 yr old adult children, amidst complaints and frantic cries of Maa, it ain’t cold, falling on deaf ears. Out comes the fluffy caps with the फुन्दा and continuous muttering of, uff, why does it have to be so cold. God forbid, if we enter into a restaurant, we have to visit the loo, before, during and after the dinner, everyone has to order different food, completely confusing the waiter, as we try to pronounce the unpronounceable dishes with our Indian tongues, finally giving up, just pointing towards the dish works most of the time.

A 12 yr old, who wanted to spend money wherever possible, just because he wanted to, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat unless allowed to hug his sister anywhere on the road, a 20 yr old fully excited and charged son, who was always full of energy at the end of the day also, and his opposite, 20 yr old, perennially sleep infused daughter, who favorite pastime was nodding off, we were a varied bunch.

From the land of Oscar Wilde to the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, to the hustle and bustle of the London streets. A weather that would vary from quite cold to very cold, dry to rainy in a matter of minutes, winds that made you want to run indoors, when there is nothing but open spaces and a few pieces of stones. Walking tours to hoho buses, meeting big Rex, Scottish humor to whisky, ( why did the farmer not know how many sheep he had, because he fell asleep every time he started counting). Making sure we don’t miss anything remotely free, and flopping down on the broken spring bed back at the room. Lack of sleep, but no lack of enthusiasm for the gardens and the castles, somebody needs to tell the Scottish that 4 walls and a roof do not a castle make. Peering inside 10, Downing Street and Windsor castle to catch a glimpse of the high and mighty, fighting at the tube station when confused with which line to take, UK must be glad to see the last of us leave.