(Clockwise) Rehana Munir, Richa S Mukherjee and Anmol Malik pen personal stories on adapting to the world of new media; On Anmol: T-shirt, Burberry; jeans, Forever 21; On Rehana: Shrug, Zara; kurta, Fabindia; jeans: Levi’s; On Richa: Top, Zara; jeans, Bluenotes; Make-up and hair: Rashmi Shastri (Prabhat Shetty)
(Clockwise) Rehana Munir, Richa S Mukherjee and Anmol Malik pen personal stories on adapting to the world of new media; On Anmol: T-shirt, Burberry; jeans, Forever 21; On Rehana: Shrug, Zara; kurta, Fabindia; jeans: Levi’s; On Richa: Top, Zara; jeans, Bluenotes; Make-up and hair: Rashmi Shastri (Prabhat Shetty)

HT Brunch Cover Story: Trials & trips of social media

Does online posting sometimes also puzzle the young? Three authors write exclusive stories where the world of new media left them bemused
By Rehana Munir, Richa S Mukherjee, Anmol Malik
PUBLISHED ON JAN 30, 2021 07:53 PM IST

Befriending Instagram

“I got an Instagram account to ‘promote my book’”

By Rehana Munir

Rehana Munir joined Instagram to promote her debut novel (Mitrarun Halder)
Rehana Munir joined Instagram to promote her debut novel (Mitrarun Halder)

About a year ago, when my debut novel Paper Moon was about to be released, I was a stranger to Insta Land. It was that faraway place where people with impeccable taste took aesthetic pictures of gourmet lifestyles. I, meanwhile, was still running wild over the wastelands of Facebook – a familiar space that I was both content within and contemptuous of. It (arguably) gave me the freedom to be funny or philosophical, sentimental or cerebral, without a visual accompaniment, or a word limit. Note to self: Watch The Social Dilemma.

In October 2019, I decided to Do The Wise Thing and get an Instagram account to ‘promote my book’– a phrase I still find vaguely troubling. “Post about your life, too, not just about your work; it makes your account more organic,” I was advised by my then 17-year-old niece: my portal to the New World. Her gentle nudge prompted a million nervous questions from my Gen X brain. Is this picture too much of a cliché? Is this couplet overkill? Should I be sharing sinful breakfast pics like everyone else, as a hello offering? But muesli and yogurt are not the most photogenic combination, no matter what filter you use. I found myself missing the tackiness of Facebook – its unintimidating aesthetic standards.

Rehana started wit Facebook, before she created her Twitter and Instagram accounts
Rehana started wit Facebook, before she created her Twitter and Instagram accounts

A year on, I’ve learnt to stop stressing about it; it’s Instagram, not the Louvre. I’ve even, I daresay, begun to enjoy it a bit. The big surprise has been the response of kind readers who have connected with Paper Moon. Though I still take disturbingly bad photos myself, I’m treated to gorgeous pictures of my book via stories and posts from people I’ve never met. I gawk at the scenic locations the lucky book has found its way into. I marvel at the art-directed images of the book surrounded by flowers and kittens, pianos and tea sets – and here I can just about manage an in-focus shot of the cover!

It’s such a joy to see the novel through the eyes of friendly strangers, quite literally. #feelingblessed #onlyhalfironic #papermoon #overkill

Pantless in the time of a pandemic

“We found our freedom in letting go… our pants”

By Richa S Mukherjee

Richa started dressing up only waist up for her writing sessions and interviews
Richa started dressing up only waist up for her writing sessions and interviews

It was a day we had all been preparing for. The hubby was to make an important presentation in front of scores of people, remotely of course. A video set up was done, noisy pigeons shooed away, errant clothes stuffed into cupboards, malnourished plants pruned and brought back to life. The rest of us were role-playing mice, fearful of any loud crunching as we watched (elaichi rusks are the worst offenders!).

The stage was set and the big man emerged, hair slicked and ready to take on the world. That’s when my eyes strayed to the bottom half and I realised he wasn’t wearing pants. The shirt, tie, cuffs were all importantly in place, but he decided to team these with shorts, as only his top half would be visible.

I was shocked, but proceeded to witness how he did a stellar job of the speech, almost as if his lack of appropriate attire liberated him and made him perform better. I was inspired to the point of distraction. Over the next few days, pants started dropping around the house. First it was me during my writing sessions and interviews, then my daughter went rogue while attending online school sessions. A no-pants movement was underway.

Richa accidentally started an Instagram live session without realising it
Richa accidentally started an Instagram live session without realising it

What can I say; that was a turning point for us. Soon, I was wearing glasses for video interactions, not bothering with my itchy contact lenses. Next, I chopped off my long, Rapunzel-like, high maintenance tresses. I have to admit, shedding these layers, my grouchiness has gone down several notches. I’m used to the snarky comments devoid of empathy – ‘What has changed for you, authors are perennially vegetating on their couches.’ But I’ll tell you what’s different. When the world around you crumbles, when the pain and misery seem insurmountable, when the future looks bleak, you gain a heavy dose of perspective and can clearly separate the essentials from the trifles and mere niceties. During this time of upheaval, some have found their liberation in writing, some in social service, some in becoming Tarla Dalals in their kitchens. As for us, we found our freedom in letting go… of our pants.

Let it be

“What she’d meant to send me, she’d sent instead as a reply to her ex’s story, back to him!”

By Anmol Malik

Anmol dealt with the disadvantages of network issues and lack of access to social media during the lockdown
Anmol dealt with the disadvantages of network issues and lack of access to social media during the lockdown

Summers ago. Home Wi-Fi down, as per usual. And me, staring into my phone, desperately refreshing my inbox. Hoping for work. The world outside didn’t care I had problems, so it carried on. Rude.

My phone lit up briefly with an Instagram story my sister had just sent me. Of her crush standing with another girl and honestly what am I supposed to do with this garbage? Then I heard her door slam and knew there’d be drama in five seconds.

She pushed her phone into my face and I read the words, ‘I Look Better.’ She’d sent him the catty comment she meant to send to me. Now she looked like the total psycho she didn’t want him to know she was.

This was a problem.

Taking her phone, I hit ‘unsend’, except nothing ‘un-ed’ itself since Vodafone decided at that exact moment it had had enough and all network disappeared.

“I didn’t pay my bill! Oh god!” she yelped and grabbed my phone. In her frenzy to access her account she hit wildly at any notification that popped up on-screen.

Which turned my phone into a stone.

She’d just agreed to the dreaded software update. We’ve all been there at some point. We’ve all seen that Apple logo glow smugly back at us. But problems meant running in a blind panic to mom, that wise adult who was currently in the middle of a ‘Forwards Frenzy’ across multiple WhatsApp groups.

Grabbing her phone unceremoniously, realising mom didn’t have Instagram, freaking out, downloading, signing in, deleting – 6.8 minutes of pure, uncalled for, high-octane action.

Anmol stalked her crush so hard that she now knows their twice removed cousin’s dog’s favourite toy!
Anmol stalked her crush so hard that she now knows their twice removed cousin’s dog’s favourite toy!

Because, the crush had already seen the message the second it had flashed across his screen. And he’d replied with an ‘I agree’.

Though nothing eventually happened between them, that afternoon as I heard them laugh over the phone while seated at my writing desk, I learnt a lesson that holds true till today – sometimes problems sort themselves out.

This desk would somehow, someday overflow with work. Till then, in the immortal words of The Beatles, Let It Be.

(Compiled by Lubna Salim)

From HT Brunch, January 31, 2021

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