The courtyard was tucked away at the end of the blind alley. As the hot summer sun would start to tilt westward, the forever familiar faces would appear in the neighbourhood windows, calling out names, impatient to run out of the house. My name was also on that list, I now remember fondly, counted an equal among my peers. It was a mixed bunch, some of us tried to speak in Gujrati or Hindi to sound like them while they joked in Bengali. And by 4 o’clock in the afternoon the courtyard would be full of little voices laughing, joking, crying, fighting and more than anything running around with the wind in their hair.
And soon with the change of season the equation in the camaraderie among the little boys and the little girls, who were now in their adolescence and early teens, started to change. The girls and I started to wear plaits, grew quieter, took to giggling and chatting more with the sisterhood on the terrace while the boys continued with their backslapping brotherhood and loud, rowdy ways. Once in a while the playful backpackers, would yank at the shy plaits in mischief, not quite ready to understand why they had replaced the giggly ponytails .
And before the raging hormones could take control over the mind or the heart, some of us had to move on to other parts of the city. The moving away changed a lot. I moved away from the warm comfort of the familiar faces and moved into a colder para which offered more of acquaintances and less friends. Once the initial barrage of ‘we all miss you’ letters had died down, I settled down for the occasional birthday or seasons greetings. And after a while, they too became rare. Time had come for the ‘blind alley and its gang’ to fade from my memory.
We have all gone through this phase when we trade one set of friends for another, retaining only the favourite few. These are the ones who we call, we keep in touch with and turn to both in despair and in glee. It happened to me as well, in some cases I was retained in address books and in others, I retained some of the old faces. So whether it was a fight, a breakup or a crush, whether it was to share grief or joy or simply to fight we called each other or visited those close by. I accepted that with each move, from one alley to another, from school to college and then on to university, I would make new friends and while some old friends would remain in my address book, some would fade.
The transition from an address book to the phonebook stored in a memory chip was not too difficult. And keeping in touch couldn’t get any better. Mobiles brought in a revolution that changed how we would ‘keep in touch’ henceforth. It suddenly brought back calling or texting to wish near and dear ones on various occasions into fashion. By this time I was also in another country, where mobile giants kept lowering call charges to kill competition. I spent hours creating messages for any given reason in any given season, birthdays, Diwali, Durga Puja, Christmas, New Year and I know some significant few still remember my fervour and as a result the deluge in their inbox.
But it was early 2007 when an email landed in my new Gmail inbox. “Come, join me on Facebook” it said, sent by a dear friend who I couldn’t refuse. Earlier I would stay away from social networking sites, the likes of Orkut, because I found them a lonely place. Each name I had looked up returned the same message every time, “Sorry, the user you are looking for does not exist”.
Facebook was comforting in a strange way as I found a lot of my friends, my compatriots, there. And one day I found a curiously familiar face in my inbox with a question I had expected the least. The slightly balding, heavy-set face had a smile I knew from a forgotten time. He had left a message asking me where my plait had disappeared, a question relevent only if I was the same girl from the blind alley of his childhood.
And soon my friends’ list on Facebook started to fill up with old, smiling faces from across the world. All were faces with whom I had common roots, in the alley, in school or college, at the University campus. Some went back to the cities I had moved on to with my new life, to coffee mornings in a desert city, to hours of Arabic lessons, long days spent at work or a group of knowledge seekers quizzing into the night.
Without the new revolution called social networking, these faces would have faded and would have been pushed to the dark alleys of the mind with the old ones. The freckled boy, who yanked at my plait and had once hit me with a deuce ball lived in Australia with a smiling wife and two pretty daughters with pony tails. One of my best friends from school, whose number i had misplaced and who never called back, was a research scholar at UCLA, California. The lady who got her Omani driving license at one go now lived in Zurich. My American friend from the Arabic lessons at Polyglot Institute had finally married his Phillipino girlfriend.
Smiling faces with perfect holiday albums and picture perfect lives gave me hope. Facebook helped me connect with that part of my life with which I had almost forgotten, friends with whom I had lost hope to reestablish contact. For nomads like us, like me, the fact that somebody from the past, distant or near, would remember, care to look up and connect gives a different high.