Remember those chatroom days?
I very clearly do, it wasn’t very long ago, we were in school and would plan when to go to a neighbourhood cyber cafe. Yes, those were special occasions, and you went with special company. My friends would often self invite themselves to my place for a party, and after tiring ourselves, we would actually walk up to the plaza and spend half an hour or so in a chatroom, often sending silly messages to each other or mocking incredulous online avatars. We would refuse to chat with anyone from our own hometown, we did not want to chat to get to know people around us, we just wanted to chat to chat!
It was the idea of actually connecting to a live human being from somewhere apparently far off, somewhere else, that fascinated most of us, you type something, and you get a reply, and the person is not even here!
At times my mother also went along, just to keep a check on what I was up to. Fitted in a small cabin in a stinking underground space, she would be grumbling constantly on the wastage of time over virtual space; on some occasions she would be narrating a mail I would type using her id, to send to her distant relatives staying abroad. She could finally keep in touch and could apparently write an email from India too!
Very soon I got tired of answering fake “asl (age, sex, location)” to random people, it was indeed redundant, I narrowed down my conversations with people I genuinely knew, who existed in my life physically as well, or almost, and thus became a daily user of Yahoo Messenger. It Was thrilling. I would set up time with my elder brother, go to a cafe just to experience chat with him.
Yahoo Messenger opened new doors for me, for I suddenly found it very easy to express through the written word. I could say things I never even would imagine doing on face. This was great, a medium to express long-held resentment, a medium to share joy, and even a medium for courtship. Of course it could not replace that which is tangible, but this too certainly was real, very much real. It affected me emotionally, it altered my time-table, it became a part of my daily lifestyle. I would keep a slot for “internet” just like one for “food”, for “sketching”.
It was crazy. It was almost like having a parallel life running online. Every day, I thought of what status I would put up on messenger, something that years later I would do with facebook, it mattered to me. I loved the fact that these conversations were being stored, you could go back, reread, laugh, feel happy or fantasize about the next bit of conversation. It was perverse too, and at times romantic. I treated that history as sacred, for some people who mattered much, who I could not meet every day otherwise, who were living far away, who did not meet physically often. In fact there were some friends, with whom this was the only mode of communication left.
I would often wait for him online, when he would return home for holidays, i would know he was about to ping me online, he would, he would be there. It gave me butterflies in the stomach, that feeling which is yet to be replaced, I do not know what term to give to it, but I still cherish that anticipation, every bit of it.
By this time I had moved on from cafe, to a second-hand pc, and finally a laptop, and every year, on his return, we would chat. Those words would keep getting stored, and stored, like precious archives of my life. We rarely met, I did not even know what he felt, still do not know, neither did I tell him why i would chat with him for so long, but I just did. When he would be about to leave, I would want to hang on to that small window of chat and hope, for as long as I could, till the time it showed him offline; At times I would still wait for a while, to ensure, he doesn’t come back without me being aware of it, and if he does, then I am there to talk more.
When we would meet in a physical space which was rare, it was great, but there’s still something very naive and innocent about those conversations, how happy, positive and carefree were those. i was much less conscious, and was completely enamored by his wit, I would try to imagine what his house was like, what his room looks like, what kind of sounds are there around him, how would he be looking while typing these sentences. I remember, once I was laughing so much while glued onto the screen that my grandmother got really worried, I even fell off the bed while typing. It is funny how I can recall very small details of many conversations online and I keep savouring those on days as these, when I miss him much. These days, when we rarely ever talk, these days when we are both engrossed in our lives, when we have both grown up to be adults that have lost that naivety, that excitement, and have probably moved on, from that which is not understood, but only could be fondly remembered, or perhaps humbly forgotten.
Yesterday I had this sudden urge to feel that anticipation once again, in those few seconds when the messenger is “signing in”. I no more use Yahoo and have lost the habit of rereading conversations, those are limited to an online storage, intangible old letters for me. I could not remember my yahoo password, after some effort and downloading the new messenger, I was being overwhelmed with nostalgia. I suddenly recalled a friend, in Dubai, with whom I have lost complete touch in the last few years, I was eager to find those conversations, a part of my life that I had left behind somewhere. I had that strong feeling in the stomach again, I was nervous and excited.
When it did open, I realized that there is no history saved anymore. It would start afresh. I cannot look at my life through chat in retrospect…
I felt numb.
Slowly I found myself engulfed in grief. I felt a sense of deep loss, that archive had almost seemed symbolic of things that form my past, experiences I might never have again, their only proof of existence, that history from my life, that history of my growing up years, my emotions, it is gone, wiped away.
I felt terrible and slept.
This morning I reflected on my reaction, and couldn’t help but be amused at how the internet is as much a part of my life as my own memory, as photographs, as text, as our old house is, and how a loss of data online has made me feel just as tragic a sense of loss as did shifting from our old house, as did the loss of my dog, as did the loss of childhood toys. My actions on the internet, my life here, is just as much real as anywhere else, its storage serves a significant purpose in my life. In a way, this erased text, for me acts as a catalyst to move on from yesterday. I wonder, if a virtual act of erasing, actually erases what was in real?I wonder if it is so for others, I wonder if he ever even read anything again, I wish he reads this blog someday, but even if he doesn’t, I might just continue to cherish that which was inside the old Yahoo Messenger, real messages of our exchange.