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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

To a Stranger,With Love

Do “net frndshps” foretell of modern fairy tale romances? How many unrequited love stories are traversing through the digital realm?

Written by Nishant Shah | New Delhi | Published: June 8, 2012 3:03:19 am

Do “net frndshps” foretell of modern fairy tale romances? How many unrequited love stories are traversing through the digital realm?

The internet has long been associated with the desired,the dirty and the forbidden. Tales of anonymous dating and hook-ups abound in the time of personalised computing. Our cyberspaces are all geared towards connecting people to have more than just coffee and conversations. So commonplace have these ideas become,even in India,or at least in the larger metros like Bangalore where the single immigrant population is growing,that one has become jaded to these tales. It has become a part of everyday routine for single (and often married) people to connect with strangers through their mobile interfaces,and hope for a fairy tale romance to happen. The idea has become such a regular part of our lives that even mainstream cinema has stopped exploiting it as a trope in the never-ending Indian romance saga. For those of us who have been embroiled in these digital circuits for what seems to be forever,we generally roll our eyes when people talk about finding love on the web. More chances of you being stalked or abused by a pervert,one thinks. Or,when things seem to get too maudlin,one re-tells the stories of horror and tragedy,heralding them as cautionary tales of what happens in the limbo of cyberspace.

And through all that exaggerated world-weariness that one is bound to perform on the social media platforms,something remarkable emerged recently. My friend Shobha (yes,that is her name; yes,I have her permission to put it right there),a young blogger,academic and writer,recently shared a story with me. When she was on one of her sojourns to Delhi,and because she did not have internet access on her laptop,she was frequenting a neighbourhood cybercafé. On one of those visits,she must have forgotten to clean the cache and history of her surfing,so her email address,which clearly identifies her as a female Indian user must have been saved in the browser. Subsequently,she found an email waiting for her,which she shared with me,and it made me think about our age of being alone together.

It was an email filled with hope,confessions,romance,excitement and that reality-TV moment of “Awwwwwness” which betrays the aspirations,the affects and the emotions that the promise of being connected offers. The man who wrote this email,recognises that this might be a bit of a shock to the recipient and so he writes “hi frnd how r u? heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee i know u r shocked that who the fellow is he even i dont know about this guy,ok dont be tensed i m not bad boy i m from delhi i likes to make new but decent frnds that why i choose u.” He confirms that he got her email id from the profiles in the cybercafé but wants her to know that he “belongs to good & educated family” and hence knows “how to talk with girls” and wants to build “net frndshp”. The email talks about how his fluency in English is not great,but he hopes to improve it by chatting with her and he looks forward to becoming close.

Once these niceties have been observed,he talks about things that bother him. He has been struggling to find work,has some experience but nothing substantial has worked out. In a poignant note he writes,“kuch past me treasudy ho gyi thi apna mind change karne k liye humne appko dost chuna”. He then fills in details about his parents and hobbies and pleads that she not “take me in a wrong way” because he is a good boy still “bachlore & virgin”,who “hates lying” and believes in “simple living & high thinking… & not do any vulgar chat”. He now throws the ball in her court and with a cheerful “jai mata di”,signs off hoping that this will be the beginning of a friendship where “attitude and nature matters…… Caring and Sharing matters…. Crying and laughing matter….. Meeting and Departure matters…. Staying and leaving matters…..” And now that he has shared all his feelings,he is waiting for a “sweet & positive responce”.

Shobha’s reaction to this email,undoubtedly gendered by the kind of harassment that women users often find within social media,was one of derision,mockery and amusement. I agree with her that this is harassment. Would he have written a similar mail to a male username he found on a public access computer? Why does he have to search for this friendship only from women? There is a constant feeling of unsolicited assault of information that is a part of the social gendered roles in our country and the internet has become such a battlefield of these gendered behaviours. For a whole lot of us who this note was shared with,the spelling,the grammar,the uncouth expressions,the conservatism,the performance of goodness,were all easy objects of contempt.

However,once we had exhausted our witticisms at the expense of this stranger,there were some other thoughts that came to the fore. In our transitions to technologised modernity,is this how modern day fairy tales looks like? This idea of random strangers on the internet,meeting and falling in love and staying happily ever after invokes the enchantment and mystery that our quotidian lives are being depleted of. Would this boy ever be able to talk like this — even if there is no response but a silence — to a woman in the communities that he lives in? Would he have been able to express vulnerability and weakness,to anybody he knows in flesh,given the hyper-masculine Delhi culture he is a part of? What investment does he have in the language that he is using in the email? What imagination does he have of the reception of this email? Would he have felt heroic,if Shobha has actually replied to him? Would he have gone home and boasted about it to his friends if he had found a female friend online? Would he have cried a little bit,in the night,silently,to not wake anybody up,if she had snubbed him? What are the promises of the internet that he has bought into which enabled him to write what he did?

I don’t have any answers to these questions and no way of knowing more. But it makes me wonder how many such unrequited love stories,the equivalent of messages in a bottle cast into the ocean,are traversing through the digital realms. It makes me think about how alone somebody must be to reach out to strangers in the dark,hoping that as we extend our hands in the loneliness,there will be more than clawing monsters or empty spaces. That underneath all the grammatical massacre and typos,there is an overwhelming hope that another hand will reach out to him,hold him,let him know that he is not alone.

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