Those were the days, the late 2000s. “Orkut” was shown the door by bubblegum Indian teens. The Facebook tornado had now engulfed them. The azure blue of Facebook was penetrating cyber cafes outside the schools and opera minis on good old Nokia devices faster than Eminem could rap “don’t tag me in stupid motivational quotes, you moron.”
Initially, the fad stayed limited to wannabe-celebrity teenagers pretending they had a life. The dopamine boost that they got when the most popular girl in the class accepted their “friend request” kept them hooked on to the platform. The most popular girl in return could brag about how many friendship requests she’d kept pending the next day in school. Gradually, the number of likes on Display Pictures and the number of shares your statuses had become the parameter by which the teenagers could measure their self-worth.
I was one such puppy-eyed teenager who joined Facebook, trying not to miss out on the latest fad, lest my friends think I am not cool. Hiding behind the display picture of Justin Bieber, I pretended to be someone whom I could never be in real life. The number of friend requests I sent to girls hiding behind Selena Gomez was humongous. The ones that did get accepted were by wannabe-Selena Gomez teenage guys. It was frustrating, creepy and disgusting, all at the same time, given that I always knew I was straight.
Like everyone I knew, I passed school and joined Engineering. I had followed the second fad after Facebook, and both of them would cause a ruckus in my life later on. Lesson learned, never follow fads.
But the bottom line was, I had grown up a little and my tastes had changed. I had grown especially wary of profiles hiding behind Selena Gomez. I had even stopped accepting requests from profiles with “Angel”, “Princess”, “Cool Dude” and “Superstar” prefixed to their names. I no longer spoke to people who were “not working, still studyyyyyyyying”. Instead, I had now become a “Bhakt”, rooting for Narendra Modi for the general elections. I am not sure if it was any better or worse.
One thing still hadn’t changed though. I could still enjoy absolute freedom on Facebook. My friends could still tag me in Mia Khalifa pictures and I could comment “jaw-dropping!” on them, my newfound girlfriend could post “I miss you” on my “timeline” and I could reply with “I love you, honey”, I could post “inappropriate” jokes when Facebook asked me what was on my mind, I could tear apart a Congress supporter with a barrage of abuses and for sure, I could share “sanskaari” pictures from my new-year party.
Little did I know that Narendra Modi had become the Prime Minister and we were amidst a Digital India now. One such fateful morning, I woke up almost still asleep. I follow a strict routine when it comes to my early morning rituals. I religiously log in to Facebook and don’t stop until I have scrolled down until the core of the very earth. I had received a new Friend Request. It was from my Mom. I was taken aback. My mom who couldn’t handle the TV remote on her own had opened the Google Play Store, downloaded the Facebook messenger app, created a new account, looked me up and sent me a friend request. I was more likely to spot the great Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar himself under my bed than this happening.
I gave her a call, she picked up. I was about to utter something but was graciously interrupted.
“What kind of hairs do you have on Facebook? We never got you a hair-cut like that!”
My mind traversed back to my boyhood days and shuddered at the hair-cut my mom had once got me in a beauty parlor when I was 8. I reminded her how I had missed school for 7 days post that day. But she had none of it. She commanded me to change my Display Picture before our neighbor Gupta Ji, who also happens to be on Facebook got me busted for my crime.
I agreed and changed my Display Picture to Lord Krishna. Everything changed once that happened.
“I miss you” on my timeline by my lady love was now met with “Who are you?”. Mia Khalifa pictures were instantly removed and the taggers were mercilessly blocked. The Congress supporters had now found a new voice on my timeline. My new year party pictures were now replaced with photos of me participating in the temple Aartis. I stopped discussing my semester results on Facebook altogether. Those mentioning it were duly unfriended, both on social media and real life. The worst happened when I came to know I couldn’t block the “Last Seen” feature. No more late night Facebook sessions trying to stalk random people.
Honestly, nothing changed for me, I was still pretending to be someone I was not on Facebook. But for people who knew me, things escalated pretty quickly after that. My girlfriend started believing I was ashamed to call her my girl. My friends started believing I was preparing for UPSC even though I am oblivious to whatever the dreadful acronym stands for. Congress supporters on my friend list thought I had taken to the right way of life.
So friends, if your freedom on Facebook means more to you than Rahul Gandhi means to the Congress party, block your mom on Facebook. You never know when you might face the wrath of Digital India.
(The above is a work of fiction)
Guest blogger: Parimal Paritosh