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Thursday, 22 August 2019 | TS Sreenivasa Raghavan

These days whenever someone insists that I become a member of his WhatsApp group I recoil in terror as if it’s an offer to infect me with the dreaded smallpox virus! So, naturally, you’ll expect me to decline the offer with a firm but polite ‘no,’ right? But, unfortunately it doesn’t happen that way with me. Despite strong inhibitions and fully knowing the ramifications of my act, more often than not, I find myself walking into a waiting snare lest my rejection should offend my friends.

Those who’re part of any WhatsApp group within India administered by an Indian for the benefit of millions of unenlightened Indians like me will better grasp the point I am trying to drive home and partner in my pain. All ugly things, I’m convinced, often have a beautiful start.

The flowers that glisten in the morning dew lose their sheen by evening. The sun that bathes the mountains and valleys with its gentle rays turn into a punishing monster by noon. The nectar-like waters of the rivers finally dissolve in the saline seas. The child loses its innocent smile as it grows into an adult. If you want, I can cite any number of examples to justify my conviction. WhatsApp groups too, work on the same principle.

The groups come alive early in the morning with heavy doses of noble thoughts, mostly borrowed, that emphasise the need for universal brotherhood and oneness.

These posts often depict a placid lake, sun that rises over misty mountain peaks or the drooping branch of a tree upon which a pretty, colourful bird is delicately perched though it’s an altogether different matter that these images have been copied with absolute glee infringing upon every conceivable copyright laws that exist internationally and within the country.

Any member, who’s new to the WhatsApp group experience, upon seeing the early morning posts, for the first time, would even lament with genuine regret, “Oh! God, why didn’t I think of joining such a noble platform earlier?”  You can’t blame the poor fellow. For, he hardly knows the tornado that’s in the offing. The tornado does not hit him immediately because till noon the group members spend time exchanging plebeian jokes and educating each other about some little known cell phone tricks like dialing 112 to establish contact with any existing network in the event of one getting stranded in an out of coverage area, which anyway don’t work! In between, you will also find a health-conscious member who himself is pot-bellied and obese extolling the strengths and virtues of bitter gourd in killing cancer cells citing some professor called Chen Hui Ren of Beijing Army General Hospital, the proof of whose existence can be authenticated only by two people in the world: Nandan Nilakeni, the Aadhaar apostle and God Almighty! But, it would be safe to leave the business of validation to the latter since the Aadhaar writ doesn’t run inside Chinese territories!

By noon, the new member is tired and hungry and would be in a mood so desperate that he would be ready pounce on any food that doesn’t bite back. Wiping his hands with a towel, he would settle down salivating at the thought of the delicacies his wife would’ve prepared for his lunch. It’s during the interregnum of this extreme hunger and wild anticipation, his cell phone beeps, sounding him out about the arrival of a fresh notification.

He gets tempted and is greeted with a message that reads:  ‘See the video and you’ll know how lucky you’re to live in a developed country like India!’ followed by the icon of a backhand with index finger pointing down. The unsuspecting individual opens the video. 

The damn thing that in usual circumstances takes an eternity to buffer fully opens in an instant and there appears a beggar, old, weak and sick, eating his own feces, drawing yellow, sticky pieces out of his anus!  When his wife returns from the kitchen with a smile that contains an unasked question, ‘Darling! Can you guess what special things I’ve made for you today?’, the man much to her consternation clutches his stomach and hurries himself to the nearest washbasin and bends before it retching and vomiting, producing some eerie sounds in the process.

He, of course, becomes normal soon, but then his appetite is gone missing like a needle that has fallen into the depths of a vast ocean never to be discovered again! He’s now worried that the video of the old beggar would get replayed in his mind automatically whenever he decides to sit before a meal plate. 

And, for the first time, he posts a message in the group: ‘Is there any technique to forget the unforgettable?’ The question being abstract in nature and since most members owe their existence in the group to forwarded messages, it elicits no reply.  If you ask me, I would say, he committed a mistake. If he’d rather framed the question ‘is there any way to censor out wrong images?’, some influential members of the group would’ve got in touch with the officials of Censor Board of India who’re adept in the art of editing out things that they don’t deem fit for the health of the country or its immature population.

That apart, the period between noon and evening is generally dry for any WhatsApp group. If you think that the members have taken break because they’re otherwise busy, you got it wrong. Instead, the fact is that they’re only saving their energy and bracing up to face the impending storm which they know is bound to ravage the Group by night. The new member is the lone person who’s not in the loop of things.

The first salvo is fired by a member, a little after the sunset, who posts a forwarded video in which one sees bespectacled, clean-shaven man with a bald pate, who doesn’t know even the abc of the media industry, let alone its functions in a democracy, indulging in a spiel claiming that most media houses in the country are owned and controlled either by Christian missionaries, Left-leaning intellectuals or Muslims with questionable patriotism.

The post seizes the attention of another member who says:  “Donno how authentic it is. If yes, then it’s a matter of concern.” Another member gets irked by the video and the comment, you know what his ideology is, and retorts:  “If you’re so concerned why don’t you buy a few of them?” That triggers a chain of messages and one member would make a cheeky comment:  “Don’t you, after all, belong to a party that has a minister who believes, cow is the only animal that inhales and exhales oxygen!” The remark leads to an all-out battle as the members within the group divide themselves into two splinter groups. Now, it’s time for the admin to act and in pure beadledom, he would remove a member basically because he doesn’t like him or his ideology. The parochial action by the admin leads to a chorus of protest and some members threaten to exit the group in support of their removed friend while their rivals insist that admin would do well in not trying to retain those who want to leave.

Now, the clock shows almost past ten and it’s time for people to hit the beds.  But, it’s at this point, a well-known tippler in the group comes alive with an unsolicited advice: “I’m shelling you…Dishcush sheepfully….May piss be upon you! Om Brandy! What he actually meant was Shanti but in the inebriated state, it was explicit that his mind was too much occupied with brandy! His comment, anyway, leads to hearty laughter among members cutting across party lines and the admin adds back the removed member and peace is finally restored, once again…till next morning.

As the day’s drama comes to an end, the new member is left fidgeting. You find him staring at the exit button with the seriousness of a country’s ruler who is valiantly trying to fend off the temptation to press the nuclear button. Trust me! I’m in a similar situation like that of the new member. I’m really afraid of all WhatsApp groups. Still, I end up becoming a member!  Call me a fool, if you like.

(The writer is a senior journalist, political analyst and communication specialist)

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