Now, in a situation where the smoke from mass cremations obliterates the sun and passions run high and tempers fast, who knows what will or will not trigger another or offend or upset or wound? (Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)
Now, in a situation where the smoke from mass cremations obliterates the sun and passions run high and tempers fast, who knows what will or will not trigger another or offend or upset or wound? (Illustration: Gajanan Nirphale)

Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Another Man’s Rancour

In many ways, it is emblematic of a widespread concern: In a world consumed with social media communication, how should one continue communicating on social media during the apocalyptic situation that India and her people currently face?
By Malavika Sangghvi
PUBLISHED ON APR 30, 2021 08:27 PM IST

In many ways, it is emblematic of a widespread concern: In a world consumed with social media communication, how should one continue communicating on social media during the apocalyptic situation that India and her people currently face?

Indeed, when despair and grief have become daily occurrences and when disease and death loom so near at hand, how should people — most likely isolated, anxious and challenged themselves — carry on with what is most likely their only means of engagement with the outside world during these harrowing times?

After all, even at the best of times, communication on social media can be a minefield of thin skins, raw feelings and hurt sentiments. Such is the nature of the beast that one man’s opinion can easily become another man’s rancour.

Now, in a situation where the smoke from mass cremations obliterates the sun and passions run high and tempers fast, who knows what will or will not trigger another or offend or upset or wound?

Of course, as soon as it was evident that the second wave was proving to be substantially more deadly than anything India had witnessed earlier and that the government’s handling of it was woefully inadequate, many had converted their social media platforms into helplines and ersatz bulletins, to marshal support and funding for those in need.

But what of the others? Were they to cease their social interface altogether, if it were not strictly pandemic-related? Would anything other than posts about the current crisis be viewed as suspect, callous and inappropriate in these gut-wrenching times? And what of people’s need to express themselves in their authentic voices; would they have to be silenced, or altered to be accepted?

“I’m not sure what to do,” a friend posted this week on his social media timeline. “Today I’ve been unfriended by someone who took grave offence over my recent posts which he felt were insensitive to the current crisis, because they alluded to other things, in my case photographs and words about happier, more buoyant times. Besides being hurt, it made me wonder if there was some truth to what he said. What do you all feel?” he enquired. “Should I desist from doing so? I’d be happy to hear your views and be advised by them…”

Couched in those simple words was a conundrum that must have had presented itself in some form or the other recently, to perhaps everyone who possessed a smart phone and an internet connection. After all, with the current levels of anguish and pain experienced by almost every body and with the heightened sense of stress and anger that prevailed, who would want to add insult to injury by appearing thoughtless, uncaring or inconsiderate through their communique?

One popular food blogger explained his peculiar problem with this post: “While witnessing the unfolding tragedy, I just cannot bring myself to post pictures of the delicious takeaway dishes I’ve ordered in the past few weeks” He wrote, “Even though I know it would help the restaurants and chefs commercially, at a time when their industry is floundering. But I am saving them and promise to upload them at a better time in the future.” His honesty and sincerity had been appreciated by the food and beverages industry and his followers.

But God knows, so many others had got it woefully wrong, and daily the ticker toll of those who’d put their foot in their mouth would rise and fall like the Sensex. These included tone-deaf stars who posted pictures of themselves at beach resorts, even as their compatriots faced extreme pain and loss; prominent influencers whose attempts at empathy had been called out as empty buttressing of their images; industrialists whose utterances angered those that regarded them as nothing more than ham-handed PR; and of course politicians, polarising and maladroit at the best of times, who were afforded the brunt of it all, with armies of bigoted trolls from opposing ideologies, waiting to pounce on their every word and wage full blown battles with them.

A fashion influencer with over 25,000 followers became a lightning rod for ridicule when she posted that she was “sick of seeing only sad posts about Covid” on her timeline. “Can everyone stop posting sad news and only put up happy posts?” she requested.

Expectedly, the backlash was huge, and her peers demanded that she take her post down. “Turn off your social media if you are so disturbed by what you see” was the representative admonishment. “But don’t ask others to stop helping or doing what they can on their own timelines.”

But as everything else, opinions were divided on what was appropriate during the crisis. For instance, the staging of the mega million-dollar IPL was seen to be distasteful and extremely inappropriate by many, even as others argued that it afforded them a much-needed coping mechanism to take their minds off the grim reality around them. Still others argued that businesses had to continue for the wheels of the economy to keep turning.

Interestingly, our friend who’d sought advice after being unfriended on account of his “inappropriate” posts, harking back to better days, received his answer sooner rather than later through a volley of responses, what came through unequivocally was a resounding call for kindness and compassion through the ongoing calamity, of allowing for more latitude, of being slow to strike, of cutting people slack, of being gentler and more tolerant, of not holding grudges, and of being and letting be…

“Healing, coping and carrying on has many dimensions,” read one comment. “One size doesn’t fit all, and we are all finding ways to keep ourselves upbeat during this crisis.”

“What one should engage in on one’s own timeline is absolutely personal and cannot be dictated by some other person,” read another, while a third wrote: “I think in these terrible times, all of us need diversions and to be reminded of better days and your posts gave me strength to carry on by reminding me of them.”

So, whereas no one really can specify what exactly makes for appropriate communique during a crisis, what people appeared to be saying was that this was a time for maturity and tolerance and for magnanimity and gentleness for oneself and others.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” goes the old axiom. “Be kind. Always.” But what of a situation when everyone you were likely to meet faced not an unknown battle, but a very real and present danger in the form of a global pandemic? Shouldn’t kindness and tolerance and a conscious effort to take a break from anger harsh judgement and unkind words be the order of the day?

You would think so, given the circumstances, as would most others. But perhaps it is emblematic of our time and the distress and helpless anger that people are currently experiencing, that even a simple call to practice kindness, gentleness and compassion, through these challenging times, could offend a whole section of folks...

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