Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Leave of absence

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Shefali Tripathi Mehta, July 1, 2012

The days I bunked school, I waited for it to get over, for friends to return home and after quickly having whatever it was that had to be had — lunch, mother’s scolding — call to ask, “Why didn’t you come to school today?”

That one sentence made life seem worth all the loving, missing and true friendship quotes that are set in loopy font over blue-skied pictures of hand-holding and hearts. Anyone who did not bother to ask, I remembered to ignore when they missed school next.

These mild to severe attention-seeking shenanigans of childhood led me to pull out of Facebook one day. Pleased as mango panha, I lay waiting to be missed and longed to see my friends say so on Facebook.

Someone had just to say, “Watup?” and others would follow, like they do a hot cause, to appear cool and not wanting to be left behind in their concern for the ‘sweetheart’ who they last ignored at the mall five days ago, or the one they remembered vaguely from school before someone else enlightened them, “that this was the scum who rode the same school bus and wiped her nose with the back of her hand,” 30 years ago.

So I waited. After school, this was the first real ‘test of absence’. I fixed this ‘miss me’ campaign for five days. Miss me or be unfriended, I sent out a telepathic warning to all my Facebook friends.Meanwhile, calm as a storm, I read their posts. Day one, I smashed four dinner plates to counter the emotional build-up from desisting to comment.

Day two, I managed not ‘liking’ 43 statuses, forwent the urge to tap in 11 emoticons, including three ROFLs that I wanted to, badly. Then, I almost buckled under the strain of finding no way to ignore the tedious, preachy bores! I read that people rode a tonga, wanted to keep someone’s goat. Bouncing off walls, I watched the world lose sight of me. People were drinking tomato tea, sighting sparrows, burping babies, suing their exes and clicking celebrities. I spied unguarded hints of love, jealousy and animosity. Unable to indulge in spicy ‘closed group’ gossip, I made 35 trips to the fridge to binge on chocolate.

On the third day, I dreamt of a record number of ‘where are yous’ and ‘missing yous’ — all in shouty caps and appended with three question marks. Expecting even my ‘friends of friends’ to notice my absence and ask them, “Hey, watup with your friend?” After all, everyone is candid on Facebook, friends of friends, especially. They ‘loyally’ like your every comment on the common friend’s wall, directly address you, comment on your comments, and send you requests and messages unknown to the mutual friend.

Let them not call or email, god. Let them write on my Facebook wall, I prayed. I imagined a wave of concern not different from the flood of obligatory birthday wishes. But for all its smartness, Facebook doesn’t have an app yet that would detect a user’s absence and send out an alert, “Your friend hasn’t shown up on FB for 19 hours, raise an alarm.” A little red SOS icon flashing next to it.

Finally, my friend of 20 years called and talked about family, fuel, fat, film, never once mentioning Facebook. In a desperate effort before she could hang up, I summoned up all the sadness that I was truly feeling now, and let drop, “I haven’t felt like Facebooking too.”

It was meant to elicit, “Are you okay?” Instead, like she’d discovered a mela-snatched sister, she sang, “Same here!” and was gone. On the fourth day, someone I don’t know from Shahrukh Khan (also because he has SRK for his profile picture), wrote on my wall, “looong tym, no c.” You spell trouble, you know, dood?

My break was supposed to free me, give me time for that which I had none. Earlier, I checked Facebook notifications every half-hour, now I was doing it every two seconds. People carried on with watering their plants and planting their feet, someone cooked up a storm, others stormed their party, someone’s tee said “pick me up” and another told her to “drop dead,” someone had to “eat crow” and someone else was “throwing up at both ends.” With one more day to go from this self-imposed exile, I could do nothing but twiddle my thumbs and worse, not even put that up as my status!