This Indian life by Shoba Narayan: Did WhatsApp group messaging make Diwali fun?

Updated on Nov 17, 2019 01:23 AM IST

Even a festival cannot be all happy happy when you are a member of a massive WhatsApp group

The birth of a new WhatsApp group is a joyous thing. But then, every WhatsApp group has a life cycle.(Shutterstock)
The birth of a new WhatsApp group is a joyous thing. But then, every WhatsApp group has a life cycle.(Shutterstock)

So how was your Diwali, Ji? Happy happy? Khao, piyo, khush raho types? Did you burst crackers? Can I just say this? I understand how bursting crackers is bad – for pollution, the environment, child labour and dogs – but God, my entire childhood memory of Diwali in Chennai is linked to waking up at the crack of dawn and bursting crackers.

I had a good Diwali, Ji. Not happy happy. In fact, it was crazy. All because of WhatsApp. Like most of you, I am part of about a dozen WhatsApp groups – some family, some school and college friends, some colleagues. The masala happened with my school WhatsApp group. For privacy’s sake, let us call it the Jawahar Bal Vidyalaya WhatsApp group. Two years ago, someone had the bright idea to create a “universal” WhatsApp group that connects every student who had gone to the said school. This is not just a group of classmates but a bunch of schoolmates ranging in age from 18 to 82. You already see the storm clouds looming, right?

Spiritual forwards form the bulk of messages, proving that religion is indeed the opiate of Indian masses

At first, it was all hunky dory – full josh, majja-maadi, as they say here in Karnataka. The birth of a new WhatsApp group is a joyous thing. But then, every WhatsApp group has a life cycle. Some depressed dude who has just been fired from work craves kinship and community. He gets the bright idea to create this giant virtual community full of love and friends. He creates said group with a punchy bright name like “Modern School Friends Zindabad,” with pink flowers on either side. He adds five people, makes them all admins. They all merrily add folks from all over India. After that, the deluge.

My school group was no different. When I first got added, there was a slew of cordial welcomes from schoolmates, most of whom were strangers. One elderly army uncle said that his son, Jitender had been my class teacher in Class V. I immediately did my respectful, “Namaste, Uncle-Ji. How wonderful to meet you,” to which he replied with a sunrise photo and the wise saying, “Friends are like underwear. They know your innermost secrets.” I was left wondering if the elderly army uncle was a pervert or clueless. I also finally understood why Jitender-Sir was such a weirdo.

The next morning there were enthusiastic “good morning friends,” messages accompanied by exploding flowers, New Zealand sheep, a bikini-clad Beyonce, Kishore Kumar, and some dead saint who I didn’t recognise. There were forwards in a variety of hues and colours, literally and figuratively that fell into one of these six categories.

Spiritual: Which formed the bulk of messages, proving that religion is indeed the opiate of Indian masses. Some messages were an odd combination of spirituality and what seemed like accounting: “Remember that God is your auditor. Death is closing stock price. Ideas are your assets….”

Self-righteous: These were forwards that were meant to convey either humility or happiness, sometimes both. Case in point: “What is success? When you are one-year-old: walking without support. When four-year-old: success is not urinating in pants. When 90-year-old: walking without support is success. Remember the circle of life and be humble. Do not be arrogant. Don’t expect too much.” Followed by flower and namaste emojis.

Entertaining: Jokes and videos of rolling baby elephants. One-liners such as: “First test match between India and South Africa. India playing without Pant and SA without Lungi.”

Advice: “A cockroach’s last words to a man who wanted to kill it: ‘Go ahead, you coward. You are just jealous because I can scare your wife and you cannot!’ – Be positive in difficult situations.”

Scaremongering: “Remember that your microwave emits gamma radiation. Plus, it is multiplied by moonlight. That is why you shouldn’t heat your dal-chawal in microwave on full moon nights. Too much gamma rays.”

Sexist: “Amartya Sen’s first wife Indian. Second wife is Swiss. Abhijit Banerjee’s first wife is Indian. Second wife French. I want to get second wife so I can get Nobel prize.”

Bragging: “Just got this invitation for my family from Rishi Kapoor-ji inviting for Sagan ceremony of his son, Ranbir with Alia Bhatt at Umaid Bhawan Palace – photo enclosed.” Which turned out to be false.

Seeking help: “Hi, I am working in import-export company. They are acting funny. Need a lawyer. Anyone knows?

All this continued for two years. Happy happy. But wait, storm clouds were gathering.

This is the first of a three-part series on ‘How to use WhatsApp effectively’. Part 2 will appear on November 24, 2019.

(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)

This Indian Life appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, November 10, 2019

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    Shoba Narayan is Bangalore-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.

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