Saturday, August 25, 2007

Comment: Murder on Orkut

The murder of Adnan Patrawala, a Mumbai-based teenager-student (seen here wearing a t-shirt that reads IMPOSSIBLE with the 'IM' scratched out), raises certain disturbing questions about how virtual social networking is transforming real lives, and- atleast in Mr. Patrawala’s case- also, deaths. Perfect strangers, who hadn’t heard of him before, suddenly feel motivated to mourn him by filling his “scrapbook(s)” with profound eulogies as well as hosting fast-mushrooming rest-in-peace (RIP) communities with memberships crossing five figures. Even more perplexing is the fact that many of these scrapbooks aren’t really his: some mourners are actually quite horrified when the late “Adnan Patrawala” promptly adds them to his friend-list, or approves their testimonials; it’s almost as if the Adnan Patrawala, who was killed in the real world, continues to live on in the virtual one.

As it turns out, one of the more successful “Adnan Patrawala” profiles, with more than two thousand obituary-scraps posted daily, actually belongs to one Tehman, who is not even Indian, but Pakistani. Now, why would these people, who are no doubt both real and alive, assume the virtual-identity of someone who was brutally strangled to death by a bunch of amateur-abductors out to make a fast buck, who, like his mourners, came into contact with him only through Orkut, Google’s social networking website? Needless to say, most mourners find this in rather poor taste, but the scraps keep coming, like the bouquets in front of Buckingham Palace following Princess Diana’s death. But Adnan was no 'Di'; unlike the People’s Princess, we now know him only in his death, and the peculiar manner of it.

Perhaps- and this is pure Freudian-speculation, of course- the vast community of Orkutians is actually feeling Guilty- maybe, even Ashamed- about what happened to the unsuspecting Adnan? For many, his death has brought home the only too Terrifying Reality of what can happen when one crosses the relatively safe sanctuary of the Virtual World and moves into the Real? This is a 'War of the Worlds’ (to use H.G. Well’s evocative phrase) that we haven’t quite come to terms with.

The media- and the police- have both labeled Mr. Patrawala’s killing as ‘the Orkut Murder’. From what one is able to decipher, his would-be killers cunningly lured him with the promise of a tet e tete with an enigmatic entity who went by the nom de plume, Angel. If this is the case, then ‘the Orkut Murder’ isn’t very different from the classic ‘honey-trap’ ploy, which has been in usage for centuries: “for God (sic) sake,” exclaims a fellow blogger accordingly, “Internet is just a medium, it is no killer.”

Frankly, this sort of reasoning doesn’t quite absolve the Internet- and more specifically, the numerous social networking sites it increasingly plays host to- of its responsibility in the Adnan Patrawala Murder. Would his killers, for instance, have known who their prospective-victim was, or how exactly to entrap him had Mr. Patrawala not decided to reveal himself- where he lived, what car he drove, the mobile phone he used, who his friends were, whom he liked, even his bedroom fantasy- on Orkut where virtually anyone could find him? In retrospect, that does seem a rather adventurous- not to mention, foolish- step.

Echoing an earlier post of this blogger's, other bloggers too are no doubt quick to take lessons from Mr. Patrawala’s mistake: “Students have to be told, with examples like this unfortunate incident involving Adnan, that dangers exist,” warns one somewhat sagaciously, “and like one would not share personal information with a stranger or accept food from someone (one) didn’t know(,) similar behaviors are inappropriate even when the Other is a virtual entity at a computer screen miles from home.” Whether this recommended-addition of “How to Avoid being Killed on the Internet” to the already much-too-cumbersome school-syllabus would indeed reduce chances of Orkutians dying prematurely is anyone’s guess. To me, it seems more a matter of common sense.

In any case, the teenagers who plotted his abduction and strangulation weren’t exactly strangers: they were his friends, with whom he shared a rather long and apparently healthy relationship (to which his scrapbook readily testifies). It is this fact, more than anything else, that helped nail them in the first place. Unfortunately, this is also the principle reason why he was killed: once Mr. Patrawala became aware of his abductors’ identities, the latter knew they wouldn’t- couldn’t- be safe; to kill him, therefore, became necessary. Orkut, therefore, was both the chief enabler of his abduction and subsequent murder, as also the main reason why his killers couldn’t get away with this dastardly crime. Sadly, this latter fact is not likely to offer much solace to those who knew- and loved- Adnan. If they could have him back, then I’m sure they’d tell him ‘to stop using Orkut’. And perhaps, at this time, that’s their advise to us also, Adnan’s alien mourners and anonymous identity-assumers.

That might well be too drastic a recourse: one might as well stop leaving one’s house for fear of getting run over by a passing truck. In my opinion, the only worthwhile lesson that Mr. Patrawala can teach us from beyond the veil is this: the virtual is, for better and worse, becoming only too real, and there cannot be different sets of rules for the two.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

August Diary: Of Conspiracies and Calamities

This morning’s ‘Haribhoomi’ carries a story on an attempt to implicate me in yet another criminal conspiracy; apparently, the present BJP dispensation in the state believes that I should be put safely behind bars in time for next year’s assembly election. A similar story appeared in yesterday’s eveninger, ‘Tarun Chhattisgarh’. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t get too worked up about what, at first glance, seems to be in the realm of speculative reportage.

The chain of events, however, leads me to believe otherwise. On the afternoon of August 10, as I was on my way to a village in Balod to preside over a function to commemorate the birth anniversary of the Freedom Fighter, Dau Dhal Singh, Papa telephoned me with the briefest of instructions: “leave whatever it is you’re doing,” he said, “and come to Delhi.”

Upon reaching the capital, he told me of a conversation he had had with a senior functionary in the state administration. “There is to be a shooting,” this functionary had confided to Papa, “and Amit will be arrested.” He further informed Papa of the existence of a ‘recovered mobile telephone’ containing a video-clip of a ‘meeting’ in which ‘plans’ were allegedly discussed to eliminate one Yogesh Agrawal, brother of a state minister, Mr. Brij Mohan Agrawal. This clip was to be cited as evidence of my complicity. To extract maximum mileage, the whole thing was to be executed ‘on or around Independence Day (i.e., August 15)’. Was any of this true?

There was, as it happened, only one way to find out: wait and watch. Consequently, I accepted a long-standing invitation from a family friend, who is heading the Patna circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), to visit recently-excavated late-Mauryan Buddhist sites; and left for Bihar. There were two other things I had hoped to accomplish during this trip: one, to visit Patna University, breeding ground of most if not all of the present lot of the Bihar leadership; and two, to get a first-hand estimate on flood-relief work in the post-Laloo era. Mr. Law Kumar Mishra, a journalist with the Times of India who had previously headed the newspaper’s Chhattisgarh bureau, very kindly agreed to be my host-in-absentia cum telephonic-guide (since he was obliged to remain mostly at Dhanbad, the place of his current posting).

In the 1950s, the excavation at Kumrahar (the only remnant of the fabled Patliputra) had yielded two monuments of note: an eighty-pillared Hall, reputed to have been the site of the 3rd Buddhist Council held in the Asokan Age; and the outlines of a somewhat cluttered hospice. I failed to see either of these sites since they were both flooded. As the base of the Hall is wooden, there is a justifiable apprehension that it might now be lost forever. The ASI people blame the mushrooming buildings around Kumrahar for this plight: apparently, the eighty-pillared Hall now functions as the principal receptacle for their over-flooded sewers. In any case, we pacified ourselves with a rather quaint memorabilia: a photograph of us standing before a reconstructed plastic display case of the excavated site (see below). A similar fate awaits the site of the historic mahajanapada of Champa in Bhagalpur: the HOD of the Ancient Indian History department at the local university bemoaned that it is for the best that this NBW (northern black ware) sites remain unexcavated. "If you cannot conserve them," he said, "then best to let them lie undisturbed for future, more sensible, generations to unearth." In any case, despite an aid of two hundred crore rupees from the Buddhist countries (notably Japan), the erasure of histories, to paraphrase Lord Naipaul, is lamentably nearing completion.

Thankfully, things weren’t quite as dismal at the Patna University, situated majestically on the banks of the Ganga overlooking the plains of Vaishali: almost everywhere, there were visible signs of reclamation. ‘King’ Mahendra, a local coal-trader and MP, has donated twenty million rupees from his MPLAD (MP Local Area Development) fund to the ASI (sensibly not the PWD) to restore Darbhanga House, his alma mater. Elsewhere, work was underway to repair broken windowpanes, falling roofs and bricked-up windows of long-abandoned hostels. Encroachments had been removed, and the police station had a lazy-air around it. The students, on the whole, seemed disgusted with politics. Most, if not all, of them continue to nurture the IAS dream. The corporate world seemed somewhat distant to them; it was something that they’d rather not think about, atleast for now. Both they- and their teachers- grudgingly attributed the beginnings of this “Renaissance” to the new Telegu Vice Chancellor, and to the Chancellor (an ex-officio position held by the state’s incumbent Governor). Elements of continuity from the past too remained visible: the VC was locked up in his first-floor office, heavily guarded by personnel from the state’s armed constabulary.

Mandarins in Patna like to joke that Flood Relief is Bihar’s “third crop” (after kharif and rabi). That might not be entirely incorrect. There was rarely a time when an IAF helicopter wasn’t hovering above the capital: the state’s immense political clout at Delhi (due mostly to its teeming population) ensures a fairly good harvest of this third-crop. Just recently, the Congress President had surveyed flood-hit areas, accompanied by the Union Railway Minister and the state’s chief minister: newspaper reported that she had been visibly moved to tears at the plight of those displaced from their homes, their lives, by the ravaging flood. The chief minister, on whom the people of the state have put great faith, recently suggested ‘interlinking’ the state’s rivers à la the Ganga-Kaveri project to prevent this annual recurrence. His argument that the amount spent on this project would be far less than the amounts spent every year in relief operations makes sense. But would it work? Atleast two such ‘mammoth’ projects- the Bargi dam and the Sardar Sarovar Project, both on the river Narmada- faced massive earthquakes, which very nearly destroyed the city of Jabalpur and the state of Gujarat. If Ms. Arundhati Roy’s polemics are to be believed, then even the World Bank, the erstwhile principal funder of such large-scale earth-moving projects, has come around to the view that their long-term disadvantages (population-displacements and earthquakes included) far outweigh their short-term gains, if any.

At the local paan-wallah’s shop, two khadi-clad gentlemen were heard lamenting that nothing has changed since the ouster of Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav's regime: “even if (Mr.) Nitish (Kumar) doesn’t take money,” they said, “the people below are the same.” There may be some truth in this remark. The kidnapping-industry shows no signs of stopping. The only cars one sees on Patna roads are Ambassadors (many of them topped with beaming red lights), Maruti 800s and vans, and even fiats: it’s almost as if Bihar has somehow managed to remain entirely unaffected by the liberalization of the nation’s automobile sector. LKM explained rather matter-of-factly: “a new car, especially a foreign car, is an invitation to the kidnappers.” Consequently, all signs of conspicuous consumption remain conspicuously absent. There can be another reason for this as well: the near-total absence of roads. Whatever little remains of the road is flooded. I saw three autorickshaws overturn when their drivers accidentally stumbled upon underwater potholes, very nearly drowning their overcrowded passengers, including a little girl. The plight of the historic Gandhi Maidan at Patna, where the chief minister unfurls the tricolor every year, was hardly better: every available pumpset in the state had to be requisitioned to drain the water. Despite what I had hoped, things in the state don't seem to have changed a lot.

Politically, caste-feelings continue to predominate. There is an overwhelming feeling among local Congressmen that the party should ‘go it alone’; they are obviously tired of playing second fiddle to the RJD (the party’s dominant alliance partner). Many of the former party bigwigs, including its last chief minister, Jagan Nath Mishra, have joined the current chief minister’s JD(U). I spoke to a former Congress home minister, who is also now in the JD(U). “What other option do we have?” he said. I don’t mind so much this exodus of senior partymen to the JD(U) as I do the paucity of those from the younger lot joining the Congress. At the Patna University, the walls were plastered with posters of all possible political hues (including the Shiv Sena): notably absent was the Congress-affiliated NSUI.

On Independence Day, when I unfurled the tricolor at a local school at Bhagalpur, there was talk of a cow having been slaughtered in Shuja mohallah, the Muslim-dominated area. A local journalist confirmed this, and when I asked him wasn’t cow-slaughter banned in the state, he replied: “it is but this isn’t Bihar, or even India. This is mini-Pakistan.” Much later, when I spoke to a higher official to verify the veracity of the rumor, he totally denied it. Whatever be the truth, I could sense the presence a strong communal undercurrent, as also politicians- and news-hungry journalists- only too eager to exploit it.

Suddenly, I was reminded of something that Alberuni, the Arab scholar, had written at the dawn of the last millennium: India, he observed, is ‘a mixture of pearls and dung.’ Returning from Bihar, I felt that not much has changed in the last thousand years.

Back home, a firing did take place at Silyari, Raipur’s industrial hub, on the 13th. Nobody was injured, and no complaint was lodged. Why Silyari of all the places? The motive of the crime-that-did-not-happen lies here, in the railway sheds. Yogesh Agrawal, the minister’s brother, controls the loading and unloading of all goods- manufactures as well as raw materials- to and from the railway-wagons: no industry, howsoever big or small, may do so without his ‘blessings’. An industrialist-friend, who also employs Mr. Agrawal’s services, estimates that his daily income from this business is in the region of two hundred thousand rupees. Not a small sum. Now, it is rumored that persons allegedly close to me, who are associated with the Youth Congress, have acquired this land around the railway sheds, which has led to some ‘tensions’ between them and Mr. Agrawal. The firing-incident was supposed to be a culmination of this rivalry, and along with the mysterious mobile video-clip, a way to unearthing a deeper, more sinister plot to murder the minister’s brother. Needless to say, I was supposed to be the mastermind.

The mysterious Mobile-clip

For whatever reason- maybe because I was not present, maybe because the minister didn’t want his brother’s name involved, maybe because better sense prevailed and they thought that like previous such ‘moves’ to implicate my family, this too would boomerang?- this did not happen. What I am sure of is this: my opponents’ paranoia- again for some inexplicable reason, they’ve come to see my hand behind everything that goes wrong with their politics (the latest being the revolt brimming in the BJP’s legislative party even though I was living in the remote village of Tala)- will not allow them to desist from their efforts to falsely implicate me. However, it would be equally foolish of me to succumb to these ploys, and not do what my heart- and mind- tell me to.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I’ve much to be grateful for, I keep telling myself, and yet, for some inexplicable reason, there is a deep sadness within me: the telephone is ringing nonstop, well-meaning callers no doubt wanting to wish me on my 30th birthday, but I am afraid to pick it up, scared of overwhelming them with my corrosive-melancholy.

Three decades is a long, long time; long enough to make one feel older than one actually is: most of it has been happy, but the Pain of the last seven years, beginning with Anu’s death, the turbulent years in power, followed by Papa’s accident, my terrible trial and indefinite incarceration, makes the happiness seem distant, blurred, as if it belonged to another person, not me. Looking back at my life, I know only one thing for certain: I would not wish it for anyone.

I could’ve been so many other things today, living the Quiet Life of contented anonymity, happy to be in the company of family and precious few friends, enveloped in a blanket of warm affection, but here I am instead, adamantly refusing invitations to ‘party’, sitting alone at my desk: and hating myself for not choosing any other life. Come to think of it, this life that I now live chose me; I never had a choice, really. Now, whether I like it or not, I am condemned by Fate to make the best of it.

And then, suddenly, this Regret dissolves: maybe, I wonder, is there an ultimate purpose to this pain, our undeserved suffering?

For one thing, it made me see things, dark things, that I hadn’t known existed: not just on the outside, but also, within me. No longer distinct, I felt myself suddenly connected with Life around me, all its beauty, its ugliness, its mysteries, by an unseen umbilical cord, and I marveled at how people living in such close physical proximity could remain so blissfully unaware of each other, as if they inhabited two separate, disjointed worlds; with what ease they blocked out unpleasant things; and above all, at the endless human-capacity to endure in every conceivable condition.

Am I not selfish for wallowing in my ultimately meaningless sorrows when others, less fortunate than me, struggle simply to exist? Except that there are no Others: they are me, the Same; we- you, I, them- are one human. And the Pain that I now feel, the cause of my melancholy, is not mine alone: it belongs to us; from all around, it permeates my pores, silently suffocating my soul...and I know there is something to be done: it has to be done alone and without ambition.

All desires die; ironically enough, this birthday marks their solemn burial. For myself, I want nothing...Already, I am excessively blest: if the suffering of the last few years was undeserved, so also were the outpourings of Love- from my Parents, the twin-pillars of my strength, my Friends and well-wishers too many to count- that sustained me through it all: even now, this Love continues to empower me everyday, every step of the way. If this is a life I would not wish for anyone else, then paradoxically enough, it is also a life I would not replace with any other. I have lost much; but in losing, I've gained so much more.

And if this life can be of some little service to those who suffer silently, then perhaps, it might not be an utter waste. When the time comes, as I’m sure it will one day, then at least, I can face my Maker, knowing that I’ve done my best not to let Him down.

Pray, dear Friend, for me, as I go forth to embrace the remainder of my Destiny.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

Monday, August 06, 2007

Personal: Celebrating One Year of Orkuting

Reluctant Convert

Truth be told, I’ve never been a great admirer of the virtues of virtual communication: it is my paramount belief that there can be no substitute for actual face to face- mano à mano- flesh and blood, contact between two or more hot-blooded human beings (a fact, needless to say, epitomized by the sexual act). So, it was only after my Inbox was regularly carpet-bombarded with automated emails inviting me to join Orkut, Google’s social networking website, from the never-say-die, Rajesh Dulani, that I finally overcame my initial skepticism, and yielded (if only as a token of my inevitable appreciation for Mr. Dulani’s patient persistence).

During the past year, Orkut has helped me revive old (not to mention, cold) intimacies with long lost friends (at last count, 95), and allowed me to befriend many more (555 and counting). To illustrate, while on a pilgrimage to the khanqah of the venerable Sufi saint, Moin-ud-din Chisti, at Ajmer-é-sharif two days ago, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a telephone call from a college-mate, Aseem Andrews, who is, as it turns out, presently working for the United Nation’s Resident Coordinator at Windhoek, Namibia: when I inquired how he had managed to find me after an absence of about a decade, he exclaimed from beyond the oceans, “Thank God for Orkut!” Not only that, since Mr. Andrews seemed to know all about what’s happened to me in the interregnum simply by reading my somewhat dense, soap-operatic profile, we could resume our dialogue as if it had never really been discontinued.

Party Poopers & Gate Crashers

Now, as regards the rapidly-mushrooming Galaxy of Friends I’ve never really met, well, the experience hasn’t been quite as enriching as I would have liked it to be: to put it plainly, it’s more quantity than quality. Let me explain. It’s like meeting people at a rather large party where nobody (including the host) knows anybody: with most, one runs out of things to say after exchanging the first few pleasantries (hi!- how are you?- I am fine, thank you, how are you?- I am fine, thank you ad infinitum). This sort of conversational impasse is not unlike the dozens of automated messages we are flooded with (on say, Friendship Day or Diwali), where the need or the motivation to respond simply doesn't exist. (See my entry on 'From One Computer to Another: Shubh Diwali, Eid Mubarak etc...')

To take a pointer from Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, we simply fail to move onto the next strata of 'virtual-proximity', which must, I guess, necessarily be based on a mutuality of shared experiences and interests (which college did you go to?- Stephen’s- O! what batch?- 1998- ah, I am your senior by a decade. Way before your time, kiddo’- Wow! is that so!- boy, do I miss those mince-cutlets!- etc. till one of them invites the other for a drink).

On the left-hand margin of its Friends section, Orkut provides a neat little hierarchy pertaining to ‘levels of friendship’. Virtual friends can be successively categorized into the following levels: haven’t met (555); acquaintances (51); friends (30); good friends (8); best friends (6). If one remains actively involved with Orkut, then there’s a fairly good probability that a lot of people in the haven’t met-list will move up to the acquaintances-list, who will in turn rise to the friends-list, and so on and so forth. As the numbers I’ve indicated in the brackets above show, the greatest hurdle is to migrate from the haven’t met-list to the acquaintances-list. From there on, it becomes relatively easier. In my case, of the 606 persons who were originally on the ‘haven’t met-list’, only 51 became acquaintances. In most of these 51 instances, I must admit that the ‘initiative’ to do so has almost always come from the other party. To enable this upward movement, Orkut offers two rather interesting options.

First, there are tens of thousands of ‘communities’ catering to every conceivable interest-group, from Harry Potter to ‘Against People Who Hate Sonia’ (a community formed in response to its rival, ‘I hate Sonia Gandhi’). Every day, hundreds more are being added (‘Free Sanjay Dutt’). It would seem that all one has to do to move to the next proximity-level is to join any of these communities that might be of interest to you. I am now a member of a staggering 115 communities (three of which were started by me). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I actively participate in all of them; or even that most of these communities have activity of any kind going on. A majority of them are quite simply, defunct. In retrospect, the only reason why I joined most of these communities was the exact same reason why I joined Orkut in the first place: not only to stop people- ‘friends’- from stuffing my Inbox with invitations to communities that couldn’t possibly be of interest to me (‘Raipur Property Developers’) but also to avoid offending these gentle souls.

Of course, there have been a few praiseworthy exceptions: SNT’s ‘Jai Chhattisgarh’ community has done more to revive a love for Chhattisgarhi-culture and language among our youth than any other forum, virtual or otherwise, I know of. However, to get it off the ground, he had to take out several hours from his daily schedule, sending invitations, posting topics, conducting polls, and even telephoning friends to join. Needless to say, not many of us can put in this kind of singular dedication and time, which is a requisite to keep a niche-group like this one alive. In contrast, a community named ‘India’, which doesn’t really cater to any particular interest or sentiment, doesn’t require this kind of effort: yet, of its 447,417 members (!) only a miniscule percent actually participate in any kind of community-discussion. So is there an alternative to ‘communities’?

To use an analogy, if ‘communities’ are akin to ‘parties’, and you don’t really feel like going to one, then Orkut offers you a second option: its rather powerful ‘search engine’ allows you to look for, and directly get in touch with, like-minded individuals (as opposed to communities), with whom one might share a hitherto undiscovered niche. For instance, typing ‘à la recherché du temps perdu’ will fish out all those who, for one reason or another, love Proust; and then, you can while away time musing about Cambray in chaste provincial-French. Chances are you will both also like listening to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1: ‘I love the way it opens with oooo such aplomb, and then quietly disintegrates into near-oblivion’. And what’s true of Tchaikovsky also applies to most virtual dialogues I’ve endeavored to sustain: for better and worse, their disintegration into ‘near-oblivion’ has been inevitable.

The reason, I believe, lies in an unavoidable ‘structural blockage’ inherent in all virtual communication. And the only way to overcome it is to quite literally, step out of each others’ computer monitors, shake hands, and embrace. Needless to say, this requires a ‘leap of faith’: what if, for instance, this person who loves Proust and Tchaikovsky turns out to be Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the brilliant psychiatrist from Thomas Harris’ novel, The Silence of the Lambs, who preferred to eat his patients’ ‘liver(s) with a nice bottle of Chianti’ on the sole pretext that their ‘therapy wasn’t going anywhere’? Well, unless and until one decides to meet, there’s no other way to find out, is there? And this is precisely where most people chicken out, and rightly so. As things stand, web-based social networking is fraught with a variety of dangers, both foreseen and unforeseen. Allow me to share three anecdotes (one involving me, and two concerning friends) to elaborate on what I mean.

Three Anecdotes: On Being Deceived, Demonized and Deleted

I first got involved with the Internet thirteen years ago, in 1994. In those prehistoric cyber-days, chatting on Yahoo! was the ‘in-thing’ (if not the only thing one could do with the then irritatingly-slow internet); likewise, at that age- 17 being the time when one’s testosterones are just firing-up- one chatted mainly to ‘get hooked’. And so it came to pass that I fell head-over-heels in ‘virtual love’ with “smittenkitten”, the chosen nom de plume of the enigmatic object of my affection (or what is more commonly known as chat-ID). We’d spend hours chatting endlessly through moist summer-nights. I learnt that she lived in Bombay (was this before they changed the name to Mumbai?); despite being vegetarian, was supremely intelligent; had a wonderful, if slightly warped, sense of humor; studied FY-Eco (short for ‘first year economics’) at Wilson’s College; and hoped to become, of all things, a fashion designer. I kept begging her to meet, and she finally consented. On the pretext of attending a friend, Ravi Patodi’s sister’s wedding, I managed to fly to Bombay; then I sneaked away from the wedding, to a restaurant on Queen’s Necklace Road (a.k.a. Marine Drive) called New Yorker. I waited for two hours, slowly drowning myself in six tall glasses of excessively-sugary milkshakes to justify my occupation of the extremely hard-to-get table, and left, thoroughly disenchanted. When we ‘met’ again for PM (private messaging), I was quite naturally furious at her. But her explanation put me at rest: “do you remember the guy on the table next to yours,’ she asked, ‘the one in the dark blue polo shirt?” “Not really,” I typed back, almost shattering the keyboard. “Well, that was me.”

After all these years, I still try to laugh the whole thing off. But somehow I can’t. Perhaps, this is the principal reason why I’ve had to turn-down requests from ‘females’ who, however valid their reasons for doing so (personal safety?), cut-and-paste a Catherine Zeta Jones photo on their profile. The fact is that ‘virtual communication’ allows you to be dishonest- to project an image of not what you really are but what you would much rather want to be- in ways that real communication simply cannot. As Amit Tiwari remarks in a particularly incisive blog-entry, "We become someone else in the virtual world." (What he doesn't quite answer is whether this someone else is actually more representative of our true selves?) Whatever be the case, any relationship based on a lie, howsoever big or small, cannot endure. Understandably, after this ‘experience’ I haven’t really had the heart- or the stomach- for similar misadventures. The risks, physical but also, more importantly, emotional, are far too great, as another friend, Mohit Singhania, was to discover to his chagrin, thirteen years later.

Mr. Singhania was an ardent Orkutian, and like the me of thirteen years ago, keen on ‘getting hooked’. However unlike me, most of his real-life encounters with his virtual friends were going splendidly, thanks mostly to the relatively deserted ‘VIP Road’ (leading to the Raipur airport). That was before he discovered that his Orkut Identity- his photos, his interests, his life- had been, for lack of a better word, copied by a perverted nymphomaniac: soon, this copycat-Mohit was hosting a conglomerate of sex-communities soliciting the participation of petite Raipuriyan femmes fatale in expectedly-depraved orgiastic rituals. To use Mr. Singhania’s own words from his hedonistically funny blog-entry, ‘Why I left Orkut’: “this guy had the balls to use my snap on his profile and then join adult communities on Orkut and finally harass the limited number of females on my friends list. Already the number of females was limited and thanks to him, I was almost about to look like a total gay on Orkut with 99% male friends. Can somebody get me this guy’s address?” Well, as it turned out, another friend, Amit Tiwari, was able to find Mr. Singhania’s elusive bête noire, after which I am happy to report he is back to his good ol’ philandering ways on Orkut. He’s even found a way to ‘talk to chicks’ behind his somewhat nosy ex-girlfriend’s back: rather than scrap, he now ‘messages’ his nice little sonnets to them (like his beefy t-shirts, he’s discovered that ‘one sonnet fits all’).

A third anecdote involves Mr. Singhania’s benefactor, Mr. Tiwari himself: it illustrates how even a relatively minor ‘dispute’ can turn grotesquely ugly. Like most men of his age, he is a man of strong opinions (to see what I mean, do visit his aptly named blog, 'Chaos and Creation'): he breathes Nietzsche (but thankfully, is spared the Great Philosopher’s descent into madness). Without going into its context, Mr. Tiwari found himself engaged in a somewhat heated textual-parley with a Raipur-based Sikh boy studying at IIT, Powai. Unable to beat him in this debate, the IITian then proceeded to ‘hack into’ not only Mr. Tiwari’s Orkut account, but also his email accounts (which he used for business purposes), and quiet skillfully, deleted them: suddenly, Mr. Tiwari was without a ‘virtual identity’. As with Mr. Singhania’s case, he ultimately managed to locate his nemesis in the real-world, and persuaded him to restore his virtual life.

The point I wish to make here is this: unlike me, neither of my friends went looking for trouble. Trouble, it seems, found them. It’s kind of like that Sandra Bullock film, The Net: a cat-and-mouse tale of deception where Ms. Bullock’s character finds her entire life erased by a band of cyber-terrorists who, typically of Hollywood blockbusters, are out to take over America’s computerized-civilization. The fourth installment of the Die Hard series starring Bruce Willis is also based on a somewhat similar premise (I will spare you the details, assuming that those of you who haven’t seen it might want to do so at some later date). Unfortunately, such tales are not confined to celluloid: if newspaper reports are to be believed, then instances of Orkut being involved in anti-social activities- narco-jamborees, hate-communities, classroom harassments, even homicides- are becoming increasingly rampant in metropolitan India.

And Two Antidotes?
Not surprisingly, the Mumbai chief of the ultra-right party, Shiv Sena’s youth wing, Abhijit Panse, recently agitated to get Orkut banned: his raison d’être has little to with crime per se; instead, he believes that Orkut is, well, ‘anti-India’. Nothing could be farther from the truth: more Indians use Orkut than any other social-networking website (as a matter of fact, the number of Indians on Orkut is next only to Brazilians, and we are fast catching up). If anything, Orkut has become a powerful medium for Track Three Diplomacy (more commonly known as, P2P, or people-to-people diplomacy): the ‘India-Pakistan Friendship Club’ has 83,594 members. In fact, Mr. Panse would be better advised if he were to emulate his party’s alliance partner, the BJP, which has obviously realized the immense potential of Orkut in promoting itself among its predominantly youth members: while the ‘BJP Supporters Group’ has 7997 members, its parent-body, the RSS boasts a membership of a whopping 22,853 (which is more than all other political parties combined, Congress included). Even Lok Paritran (formed by IT-savvy IITian do-gooders), a relatively insignificant political outfit in the real-world most recognized for its anti-reservation stance, has a membership of 10,185. In contrast, the ‘Dalit’ community, whose members support affirmative action for the depressed communities, number only 505. In fact, it would not be incorrect to say that Orkut is fast becoming an ideal representative of what’s happening in- and to- Urban Upper Caste India. And even as Orkut continues to draw parts of this India closer to each other, and to the world, it also shows us how fast and how far this India is moving away from its Rural, Exurbian counterpart.

As I enter my second year of Orkuting, my effort, therefore, shall be twofold: first, at a personal level, I should like to make a conscious effort to convert my virtual friendships into real-life friendships, believing that the Good in all of us cumulatively overpowers the Bad that might exist in some of us; secondly, I would want to explore ways in which this immensely powerful medium could be used to ‘sensitize’ my Urban Friends, both real as well as virtual, to the needs, the hopes and aspirations, of the India that doesn’t quite have the luxury of connecting to the world on Orkut.

Read More (आगे और पढ़ें)......

get the latest posts in your email. ताज़े पोस्ट अब अपने ई-मेल पर सीधे पढ़ें

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

DISCLAIMER. आवश्यक सूचना

1. No part of this Blog shall be published and/or transmitted, wholly or in part, without the prior permission of the author, and/or without duly recognizing him as such. (१. इस ब्लॉग का कोई भी भाग, पूरा या अधूरा, बिना लेखक की पूर्व सहमति के, किसी भी प्रकार से प्रसारित या प्रकाशित नहीं किया जा सकता.)
2. This Blog subscribes to a Zero Censorship Policy: no comment on this Blog shall be deleted under any circumstances by the author. (२. ये ब्लॉग जीरो सेंसरशिप की नीति में आस्था रखता है: किसी भी परिस्थिति में कोई भी टिप्पणी/राय ब्लॉग से लेखक द्वारा हटाई नहीं जायेगी.)
3. The views appearing on this Blog are the author's own, and do not reflect, in any manner, the views of those associated with him. (३. इस ब्लॉग पर दर्शित नज़रिया लेखक का ख़ुद का है, और किसी भी प्रकार से, उस से सम्बंधित व्यक्तियों या संस्थाओं के नज़रिए को नहीं दर्शाता है.)

CONTACT ME. मुझसे संपर्क करें

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
Telephone/ Fascimile: +91 771 4068703
Mobile: +91 942420 2648 (AMIT)
Skype: jogi.amit
Yahoo!: amitjogi2001