to you” – read the simple, harmless message that I had typed out amidst a busy day, on my friend’s Facebook wall, about six months ago. What I didn’t know then was that that would be the last such message that I’d put up on any of my friend’s walls hence. The next day when I returned to Facebook, the little box in the right hand column announced the birthday girls and boys of the day, as it always does.
I surprised myself with ‘would I have remembered to wish them, in person, had I not logged in?’ and I had no answer to my question. ‘What perfect timing to ask oneself such a rhetorical question!’, I chided myself, and logged out without posting my ‘warm wishes’. But the question hung in the air, waiting for a reply. I didn’t want to spell out the answer.
This might seem an absurd situation to someone who does not spend the better part of his or her day in front of a cold screen, at office or working from the dining table, like I do. It would have seemed equally strange to me, too, four or five years ago, when the cold virtual world was largely unexplored and I was accustomed to meticulously circling out ‘important’ days on the wall calendar, table calendar, the Bee’s organizer and mine. To refresh your memories, for it has been a long time since my last post, I need to remind you that I am married to a rather forgetful man, who barely manages to remember his own date of birth. Hence, I went through the exercise of making every ‘red letter’ day stand out and be counted.
It was my first year on Facebook and I was learning the ropes from those who had been there longer. I still remember the comment I had left behind on a friend’s update. His harmless update expressed gratitude to all his friends and foes alike for remembering to wish him on his birthday. Back in those days, I was far too honest for anybody’s wellbeing. So I added my comment ,‘dear XYZ, don’t thank us. Thank Facebook for reminding us ’ to a long string of comments under his update. The ‘good’ friend is yet to forgive this loose cannon who decided to rain on his Facebook birthday party.
What happens to all bottom drawers and top shelves of wardrobes, bookshelves and chest of drawers? They end up as our treasure keepers and all that was important to us in their prime. And one fine spring-cleaning day the 12 year old girl pulled out a cardboard box, frayed at corners, the lid hanging from the edges. ‘You need a new box for …. ‘and before she could make up her mind, her voice had got buried in the contents of the box. By the time I returned my attention to her, she had pulled out everything, thelittle notes, the letters, the greetings cards, a few address books from my Vth, VIIth and XIIth grade days – two ‘slam’ books and a bunch of hand made birthday cards held together with a piece of faded ribbon. She had finished with the rest. Her eager fingers were now unfolding each little card, scanning through the contents, giggling, sighing and moving on to the next. I joined in. Most of the birthday cards were made of ruled sheets of paper torn out of exercise books or white sheets torn out of drawing books and a few on blank cards bought from the stationery chap who sat by the school gate every morning. All of them were from the year 1988, the year before a tiny Archies’ gallery came up next to our school. “Why don’t my friends exchange hand made cards?” she wondered aloud, “and your friends were so good at painting!” she continued gushing over the heap of teenaged water colour trails and birthday sweet nothings, from a long time ago. I gave them a longer lease of life and a new box to live in forever.
I must admit that my birthdays over the last five years on the social network have been both flattering and rewarding. Every year, hundreds of messages appear on my wall from friends, colleagues, classmates, acquaintances and complete strangers and, as if by the rules of compounding, the numbers have only gone one way – upwards, year on year. It was the perfect complement to my erstwhile quota of phone calls, greetings cards, sms-es and the visits of a few friends who dropped in to share my day. Now, wishes were flooding in from all over, from friends and foes alike, that too from across all the remote corners of the globe. Friends, who I had shared my school desk and lunches with, suddenly popped up on my wall, a classmate from my Philosophy class in college, neighbours from two cities ago, a bunch of smiling, gorgeous girls who claimed to be juniors from school, college, university, distant second cousins, and my husband’s friends and colleagues – don’t get me wrong, I was loving the attention.
But my old self, who loved hoarding greetings cards in boxes and marking ‘significant’ dates in the organizer; the person who preferred to call or drop in to wish friends/relatives/colleagues in person felt neglected and lost. She was slipping away as I was fast adapting to an ‘easy’ way out. I also ignored her complaints, ‘X used to call every year, why hasn’t she this year?’; ‘Y and I had this ritual of wishing each other at midnight, ever since eighth grade, whatever happened?’ ; ‘what happened to Z’s bunch of flowers and his smiling presence in the evening?’; ‘I have stopped making calls, and I was so particular!’; ‘How could I have forgotten A’s birthday – because there was no notification on Facebook?’ – she went on and on. The few reasons to call and catch up with friends and family were fast disappearing in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and the convenience that technology provided. And my Facebook wall was becoming a beehive of ‘quick-and-easy-even-if-somewhat-impersonal-but-gets-the-job-done’ activities.
Of late, I have been feeling a sense of loss; a loss of warmth and the thought that is required to remember such dates and convey the requisite wishes – whatever the means. That old sentimental me, is once again craving that personal touch, at least from those that are near and dear. A phone call, a message, a visit – more than a ‘one among the many birthday messages put up on others walls in the course of the day, every day. And I have taken the first step. I have stopped writing messages on all walls, that of friends and acquaintances alike. The next course of action is yet to be drawn up.
Considering the number of walls I skipped in the last six months, I foresee quite a few steely resolves to sit out from wishing me this year, at least on Facebook. It will definitely make the number of birthday wishes on my wall dwindle substantially this year. But I am helpless. I can’t do this any more.
From my TOI blog, Freeze Frame