Et tu, Momma?

Dear Diary (DD),

It’s been a long time since I have put down thoughts on paper. Oh no! I hadn’t slipped-on a condom on my pen or rather on the keyboard of my trusted HP Notebook. It’s just that I had been doing a lot of soul-searching in the past couple of months as I cooled off my laid-off butt.

There I was breezing through life in the erstwhile land of Milk and Money on an H1B visa, hankering for that Holy Grail – the Green Card, deluding myself into thinking that my hardworking, intelligent, intensely focused rough and tough but upwardly mobile ‘Made in India butt’ was very much recession-proof. But I guess that I hadn’t factored-in the antics of a clown called Bush and their neutering effect on my life’s progressive equation.

Anyway, now I have ample time to do so as I sit at home in Mangalore- pretty much the same as George Bush Jr. in Texas, I guess. Oh yeah DD, I sit tight alternating between watching mishmash on TV and the corns grow on my buns as I delve into philosophy, the changing faces of technology, contemplate on internet karma and ponder on the vagaries of life brought on by the blitz of the worldwide web.

Sigh! Those were the days in the late seventies and early eighties when life was much simpler, DD!

No strident alarm clock tones for wakey- wakey in the morning. You didn’t need to be yelled at by mom or Dad – you just upped and were about, brushed your teeth with an iota of Dabur Lal Dant Manjan or Binaca or Neem toothpaste, spattered a few drops of tepid water with a cracked plastic mug on your eyes and face , wolfed down half a dozen bullet-proof-thick chapathis, slurped on some insipid Panduranga tea, slipped on those 2 inch thick Bata all-terrain cum all-weather cum all-occasion-worthy Hawai chappals, sidled that shapeless Duckback schoolbag crammed solid with textbooks and assorted paraphernalia squarely between your shoulders, probably toted a Cricket bat or a Hockey-stick in a hand and either walked or hopped on a ramshackle city-bus as it clattered on its way to school.

If you were lucky enough, you could hide your puny self crammed solid in between some lard-asses and avoid paying that measly 15 – 25 paisa as ticket fare which would otherwise buy you a pocketful of hard-boiled sweets. And hey -you were to ready to stare the world in the eyeballs, or rather, catch a Tiger by the tail if not his near-extinct bollocks!

To common folk, computers were as alien as ET and only spoken of solely in hushed tones. Apparently they existed only in strange foreign galaxies called the USA/UK etc. Postcards and inland letters ruled the roost. While the post & the postman were not unerringly punctual that you could set your HMT wall clock by it, and never mind the fact that Christmas cards would inevitably be delivered or received by the Easter that followed, in those laid-back days, it sufficed.

If at all boredom hit you like a ton of bricks and you wanted to say “Hi, howdy do” to any known Tom, Dick, Harry, Sally’s or your family – all you had to do was walk a couple of dozen furlongs or board a bus and visit. Of course, those who were a little better-off could always hop into an auto-rickshaw and putter-off. The other privileged few could ride royally on their Ambassadors or Premier Padminis or Ambassador Mark II’s and con themselves into thinking that they were the cynosure of all eyes! For all I know, they probably were.

Know what DD? Back then the concept of a mobile phone was utterly non-existent. Why, out then the waiting-list for a landline would probably be as long as the Great Wall of China! Forget about soaps – probably the only ones around were Hamam, Chandrika, lifebuoy and suchlike. They merely foamed minus the scummy froth that we see on the much vaunted television soaps these days. For entertainment of the audio-visual kind, there used to be a couple of theaters screening half-assed or full-baked movies – depending on one’s penchant. For children of lesser God’s, Akasha Vani blaring out some inane stuff on those WW II model Telefunken/Philips transistors was funda enough! That in short, DD, was life back in the late 70’s and early 80’s as I was doing my elementary schooling.

Many years later towards the fag-end of the eighties, there came along the computer and probably a decade after that (at least in Mangalore), the worldwide web. That’s when things started getting mighty interesting. The chatting fever caught almost all and sundry by the short-hairs. Most couldn’t wait to pound on the keyboard of the computer doing that thingy called chatting in some dingy and ill-lit cybercaf? that had miraculously mushroomed almost overnight at almost every nook and corner in town.

Chatting united the world. It did heaps more for humankind than our beloved late MJ’s song – ‘Heal the World’ could ever aspire for. It literally soothed imaginary & real wounds – both physical and those of the psyche. It awakened myriad passions that were hitherto smothered beneath a blanket of societal and parental strictures, moral code and of course a lack of connectivity. Chatting simply healed the world. Period! Almost everybody came to know somebody else or the other around. Latitudes, longitudes, time zones, hemispheres became immaterial and people started having dozens of email accounts with dozen scores of chat pals. Ha, DD – so much so that some peoples contacts list started reading like the goddamned Yellow Pages!

Such was its lure! Such was the magic in the air. Such was the www’s potency that it made WWF look like a game of snakes and ladders or Chinese checkers! You know, DD, I always wonder why the World Health Organization (WHO) didn’t declare chatting as a pandemic of mammoth proportions! But hey DD, incidentally, do you think that those schmucks were caught up with chatting too? I know – that’s the million $ question, eh?

And then as though that wasn’t enough, some chaps decided to wire the world much more closely. Somebody suffering from a cerebral short-circuit (the media reported it as a ‘brainstorm’ and since both words mean more-or-less the same, I’ll spare them the mandatory diatribe this time) came up with this novelty called Social Networking. Oh, how it promised to take away ones loneliness and give hope to the hopeless basket-cases! Word got around quicker than you could say ‘cheese’ and lo, yet another pandemic was born!

And then VOILA – one not so fine day there came along A**book or AB as it is better known as.

Boy! How people jumped on the bandwagon – the pre-pubescent and the post, the 30 – 40 pluses, the old, the infirm, the religious, the laity, the politicians, the crooks, the movers & the shakers, the bald and the bold, the witty and the witless, the brainy and the brawny, the half-dead and the brain-dead, the nuts, the bolts, the cranks, the singles and the doubles, the divorced, the happy, very happy and the gay, the lushes, the dope-heads, faithful and the unfaithful of all colors shapes and sizes, the agnostics and the atheists, irrespective of caste and creed and sex – they made a beeline to register themselves on that omnipotent and omnipresent domain in the ether-world called AB.

People started digging up long lost pals right from their pre-KG, LKG, UKG days. They started ferreting out people from all corners of the earth. They started putting up their groovy and not-so-groovy pictures on it for the entire world to see. God Almighty, DD! Some of them even started commenting on their own pics. Others described in detail what they planned to do/did, like for example – take/ing a leak on the neighbor’s gardenias when they thought that nobody was looking of course, or getting smashed senseless at a party. They posted pics of that crap too! And then, they bitched about life in general – about the boss, the bitter half, the kids, the neighbors, the escalating cost of living and loving, indulging in philandering or philanthropy, el-Ni?o, el-Nina and well, in simple – the whole doggone nine yards!

Gosh, how they made asses of themselves by voicing out their grievances and doing their gooey laundry in public! Goodness graciousness, they even proclaimed their everlasting lust disguised as love and masquerading infidelity as hi-definition fidelity on that godforsaken public board called the ‘wall’!

Oh DD, talking about the wall reminds me of how my late pet poodle Fido (Rust in Peace dear pooch) used to love taking his pee-pee on my neighbors wall back in the US of A! And to think that now, people get their jollies by scribbling stuff and nonsense on AB’s wall!

Yup, I’m aware they think that it is chic – the in-thing! But the truth be known all ye men and women of good faith and of course my dear diary – I have already told you’ll what both Fido and yours truly think about the AB’s wall and what it’s primary purpose actually is! Ahem!

What, DD? You think that I’m fibbing. Ok, read the following and when you do a volte-face on your opinion, I’ll have the last laugh!

See, like almost everybody around, I too jumped on to AB. I caught up with my long-lost pals and then made their pals my pals too! Pretty soon, even my Contacts List started reading like the Yellow Pages. I became addicted to AB. It was so bad that even if I broke wind, I had to scribble it on the goddamned wall or notify my AB pals and eagerly await their sanctimonious and yet politically-correct comments. Oh yeah, I had to do it even before I had finished trumpeting. Damn it, DD, my day began with AB and ended with AB and in fact, there was a time when I was convinced that the sun rose on AB’s non-existent face and set on its posterior orifice! All of it! But it was so much of fun at the time. Or rather, that was what I thought then!

The bubble almost burst when dear momma decided to hop on AB’s bandwagon and have some fun too. Pretty soon she was even more hooked on to it than I! She gave up thumbing her rosary beads and took up the mouse and instead of reading myopically from her weathered Bible; she started putting up her thoughts on the wall! She asked me to digitally enhance and color-up one of her best black-and-white photographs – incidentally shot in the 1940’s and she posted it with great pride. Oh yeah, she told me that she was inordinately proud to have made AB pals with all and sundry – right from her generation to gen next! Now, that’s not all! Santa Maria, she even joined the fan club of Judas Priest!

The last straw that broke the proverbial Camels back was when she dug me out and invited me to be her pal!

Awwwwrrrggggghhhhh! I broke into a cold sweat and fought my palpitations. What on earth was she thinking – that she was Madonna, dame Judi Dench or Rekha? I slept on it for a fortnight. However, when she reminded me for the umpteenth time about her invite and threw in some emotional blackmail too, I relented and accepted her invite rather reluctantly.

In a jiffy, she made my pals her pals too and started peeking at everybody pics. Ah, DD, how I wish that she’d stopped at that! But nope, she didn’t! She made it her life’s mission to comment on everybody’s state of dress or undress and issue ‘appropriate’ advice – which incidentally belonged and belongs about 2 millennia ago! She used AB to keep track of me, my friends circle and our whereabouts. If at all I happened to have a pint too many and one of my big-mouth buddies scribbled it on the wall, she was the first one to know and chew my ear!

Did she think of herself as the next savior or some glorified net-nanny? DD, I honestly have no clue, but boy, momma was inordinately proud of herself in her new avatar.

Unfortunately though understandably, my pals weren’t! They started avoiding me like I had the bubonic plague and pretty soon they dropped out of sight. I had so many pals in my hometown, but not one to talk to. It reminded me of the adage – “water all around but not a drop to drink”. Even the ones from distant latitudes, longitudes and hemispheres started looking the other way. I tried deleting my old pictures and posts but drew a zilch! My Momma could dig them up – just like that and 2 hoots for AB’s policies, rules and regulations.

AB had indeed made an ass out of me!

But I drew solace from it – I wasn’t the only one you see!

Anyway, it was a Saturday evening and since my buddies had forsaken me to meander in AB’s lush pastures, I decided to take the load off my head, seek some solace and with that rather noble intention hopped over to the neighborhood church for an informal confession.

I found the geriatric parish priest busy pounding on his keyboard. Going by his engrossment – “ah, the blessed chap is polishing his Sunday sermon”, I surmised.

I could see his computer screen and to my horror, I saw him exchanging that crap called ‘scraps’ with dear momma on AB’s wall. Now, if she were to be chatting with Judas Priest or Maxi Priest, I’d have looked the other way.
But with our roly-poly parish priest! By the perfumed dung of the holy cow!

Gasp… Gasp… choke… cough cough…and I gasped -“Et tu, Momma?”

I clutched my throat… I choked and fainted.

The next thing I knew was that I woke up the next day morning at Fr. Muller’s Hospital. Maybe I was in the mental ward – I don’t honestly know.
All I knew was that some nut was hollering out loud paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Ballad of East and West’:

When the mutual itch and loneliness come staring face to face,
tho’ they come diverse from the ends of the many a place!
There’s neither east not west, border nor breed, nor birth,
Coz until there exists AB, of fools on earth there is no dearth!

Author: Chris Rego- UAE