Adieu Orkut, you will be missed

  • Dhruba Jyoti Purkait, None, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 30, 2014 15:57 IST

I woke up this morning to numerous messages from friends on Facebook asking me to log onto Orkut on its dying day, ironic since the ubiquitous FB was new social media lion that finished off the feeble Orkut.

But in the Durga Pujo bustle, and the associated resentment that is life for a migrant Bangali in Delhi, Orkut's last day had been forgotten.

So I logged onto the pink-and-blue, hopefully for one last time.

The original social network was special to many since it was the first of its kind. I joined Orkut in high school, along with several friends, and the mere idea that one could be 'friends' with some man thousands of miles away, without the textbook-ish rigour of pen-friendship, was liberating.

Undeniably, Orkut was social currency, just as the more suave Instagram is now, and we often showed off 'scraps' and 'testimonials' in schools. On more embarrassing occasions, we'd trade glowing testimonials – replete with cringeworthy teenage spellings – to impress men/women we liked.

Orkut was my introduction to stalking people too cool for me to know in real life, a skill honed by Facebook. Only later did I learn that people were killed by deranged people over Orkut.

But in the initial carefree years, Orkut let you be, allowing you to use whatever name and photo you please. While it gave rise to profiles like ' I like rain cuz no one knows I'm crying' and 'Indian rockstarzz', it didn't have any of the stifling real name nonsense of Facebook. Maybe through naivete, it reached the core of identity, the right to determine how you want to be known.

What I really enjoyed were the forums that had none of the echo chamber-ness of the FB profiles. I'd spend hours type-warring with unknown people over politics, culture, American idol and the like. It would be nice to say I made life-long friends, but I lost touch with almost everyone there, and have nothing to show except some poor physics exam sheets.

But more than that, Orkut was freedom, for a lot of us who weren't from metropolises or well-heeled schools where every happening person knew the right others. Orkut became the medium for people – including me – who weren't comfortable in English, wouldn't use it in daily conversation, and were, frankly, mildly intimidated by those who did. The endless 'fraandship' jokes had a basis in the blue website being an aspirational vehicle for those seeking inclusion into an elite club.

This also let to Orkut's demise. The exodus around the turn of the decade to FB was due to people moving to a cooler blue medium to escape 'that crowd', seeking the very exclusivity that Orkut had unwittingly attacked. Of course, we caught up, just a year-or-so behind.

Of course, it is easy to be nostalgic. Orkut had a terrible interface, non-existent privacy settings and was apparently incredibly unsafe. But it also showed me how there were other people with the same interests I had, that liking men wasn't dirty, that internet chat needn't always be creepy. Sometimes, I even almost gave into the temptation of the seedy fake profile, so empowering for a lot of queer people too boxed in by the 90s to be comfortable.

Ultimately though, Orkut's main achievement is being the first of its kind. But, as with one's first car, pet or love – to borrow a tired phrase – it isn't easy to let go of the first relationship, howsoever imperfect it may have been.

So as my friends cajole me to download shameful limerick-y 'testis', I thank Orkut for making me who I am. Haha, not quite. But it was a great ride, one that I will be able to look back at someday without ear-burning embarrassment. I'm not sad you're going away, blue website, but that doesn't mean I don't remember what we had. Adieu.

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