Monday, May 18, 2009

Chat Masala 2009

I am a chatter. It’s true!! On any given day, while I work, the one place I am also likely to be found, is in that wonderful, ephemeral thing called cyberspace; in one of those hundreds of wonderfully imaginary spaces better known as chat rooms. And, what’s more…….. I actually enjoy it! ( there goes my membership of the AANTEL club)

After years of intensive chatting, I have found a few common traits in the average Indian chatter that I find incomprehensible, and sometimes, downright weird. Here’s a list...

First of all, what’s with the English? We, as a nation, have been learning English for… what? … 160 years? Today’s urban Indian watches English movies, goes to English medium schools and sits glued to English channels on TV. So how come most of us are still saying things like “will you do/make friendship with me?” and “I am proposing you for friendship”? Why, when I say my work is writing, do I get “means?” Not “what kind of writing”, mind you, not, “beg your pardon”, nor “what do you mean writing?”… Just “means?” or, even better “mean…” why do we still ask “what do your age?” or “what is yours good name?” is there something in our nature that makes us resistant to picking up correct grammar? Or is it just the system? None of these people are either uneducated, or from vernacular institutions. I am talking about engineers, MBAs and doctors who have done these courses after spending a good part of their life in English medium schools!!!!!! Even if terrible English is not nearly the worst thing I keep running into on chat, it does leave a really bad taste in my mouth. I enjoy language; love the nuances, the delicacies, and the intricacies of new tongues. And frankly it jars to see the state of English in modern, urban, educated, 21st century India.

And then, of course, we have the major opener “caste?” Now, as I have discovered, this can mean one of two things. They are either trying to find out your mother tongue, or your actual caste (God! The English!) Both of which, in my view, are unimportant even for one-on-one real-time-space acquaintance, let alone a casual chat on the net. What does it matter to some nameless, faceless entity on the net whether I am a Maharashtrian or a Gujarati or a Bangali? Even if it seems nice to know, from the point of view of say… finding a fellow Bengali on the net and speaking Bangla to them, should this be one of the first few questions to be asked? Why this intense need to label, mark and cubbyhole people? I have found, in my interpersonal relationships, that I may not even be aware of a person’s last name as much as 6 or 8 months into a friendship or acquaintance; let alone caste, or community. Not a problem, as far as I can see. In fact I think it helps me see the person better as an individual rather than a Marwari or Tamilian or something, which would, at some level, bring in all the stereotypes about that community that I may have received from media, movies, and common lore.

Also, why “religion?” This again is something that I would prefer not to interfere with my perception of someone. Or someone’s of me. And… what is worse… when I say I am an agnostic, or an atheist (I tend to say both coz I haven’t really made up my own mind yet) I get either another “means?” Or, even worse, “but what is your religion?” this latter flabbergasted me for quite sometime before I realised that the concept of personal belief is either non-existent or unimportant in this context. What I am being asked is what religious community I was born into. This too puts my hackles up. Again, being seen as belonging to a community, regardless of whether I believe myself a part of it, has too many stereotypes and received ideas associated with it that I would rather avoid. Most of us today, in my opinion at least, are not very religious anyway. Lack of time, lack of inclination or lack of faith… call it what you will. So, for someone who is a self avowed atheist/agnostic to be badgered about what religion they, or barring that - their parents, belong to, seems a bit excessive. Should this really be such an important factor in either life or chat?

Oh! And lets not forget that wonderfully subtle (not!) way of trying to find out the above things if a straight answer is not forthcoming. NAME! Yep. Big deal. I may say “Mickey mouse” three or four times in answer to successive, obsessive questions about name, and I still get “tell me your name” at which point I proceed to put the person on ignore and wonder if they are really so dumb as to not understand that I do not want to tell them my name. Another category of chatter will seem to take my non-disclosure stance in stride only to come up with “any problem?” This group seems unable to comprehend that one may wish to remain anonymous simply because… If you do not tell them a name (any name will do, coz a made up one is just as good in the e-world) they behave as if you have insulted them horribly and start to say really stupid things like “you don’t trust me?” (Duh… I don’t know you from Adam, why the hell should I trust you? Not that that is an issue here) or “I am so bad that you can’t tell me your name also?” (Two things buddy; where the hell did that come from and where the hell did you learn your English?) If, surprise surprise, I do tell them that my name is Jia, we have an immediate “surname?” (Of course this question may come as any one of the following -- sirname, sarname, title etc)

Another major problem for my fellow chatter arises when I say that Jia is my full name, that I do not use a last name. At this point we have a repeat performance of the religion thing with either incomprehension, or insistence. It is not only incomprehensible, but seemingly impossible, in the Indian chatters mind that one may choose to give up one’s last name (coz how can anyone not have a last name!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). They insist on knowing what one’s parents’ last name is, again in an attempt presumably to categorize one into religious, caste, and language/community cubbyholes. Or better still, they start to sympathise. With what? With the massive family tragedy that has driven such a rift between me and my father. WHATTTTT?? WHAT bloody rift? What tragedy? Well, since I have dropped “my father’s surname” I must have either been disowned by them or disowned them myself…obviously! Of course why my DAD has to be identified only by his surname I have no idea…he is DEBASIS as far as I am concerned. The surname he still carries is just a tag that tells people his language, religion, community and caste. I don’t believe in tags…its as simple as that.

Well. Identity out of the way, what do we talk about? Hobbies of course! So, what are my hobbies…. Lets see now, writing, I suppose, although that’s more like a calling than a hobby…. And, I suppose, books, music, movies, people, art, cooking, photography, etc, etc, etc. “people?” comes the question immediately. “Means?” If I was to be my own bitchy self I would say that PEOPLE means, persons in general; men, women, and children; human individuals collectively. A usual word for a group of human beings, considered collectively and without differentiation (according to the Reader’s Digest Universal Dictionary). However, at this point I am already despairing of this person’s grasp of the English language and do not wish to burden their puny minds. Conversation can now be brought to an end, as it would take too much time, money and effort to explain to them how “people” can be a hobby.

So shall we talk about books? “Do you read?” I ask. Hoping against hope to hear a yes. BANG! I am hit by “I have finished my college” … hold on a minute. Back up the cart a little bit. What do you mean you have finished college? Do you mean to say that the only reading you ever did was curricular books? No! That’s not what they mean! They have just shown more evidence of that wonderful English that I was talking about, and equated my “do you read?” with “are you a student?” If you are lucky enough to find someone who actually understands the question, as well as gives a positive answer, you send up a prayer of thanks and ask “what do you read?” pat comes the answer, “newspapers and magazines” or, if you are really, really lucky “comics” or “Hadley chase”(spelt any which way except the correct one). To try and explain that that is not exactly what you consider a reading habit-- is, of course, a complete waste of time and energy. Camus, Kafka and Sartre? Greek and Latin. Even Patricia Cornwell and Arthur Hailey are usually unheard of; let alone Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. Move on my friend.

Music? Everyone listens to music right? Yep they do. “What kind?” comes the question. “Everything,” I say “except boy-bands and bubblegum pop.” Instead of starting a discussion about what I do like at this point, 90% will just ask, “why do you hate boy-bands?” and some actually say “They are sooo good. You should love them. Such lovely songs!” I didn’t ask you to hate them did I? So why are you trying to foist your love of them on me? I happen to have a different set of expectations from my artistes and my music. That’s all. And anyway, I have never been very fond of gender-identity-crisised young men singing soppy songs in irritating falsettos. Songs, moreover, which sound pretty much the same across albums as well as bands, and worse, are mostly covers of older much loved numbers by better artistes. Songs that do not speak to me of anything else that is important, except love, love, and love-- ad nauseum. More to life than just love, I have always thought.

And that brings us to another cracker. The third question, usually (after “how are you” and “ASL please”) is “any boyfriend/are you married?” now I completely fail to see how this has any bearing on chat, unless you are in the room only to search for a suitable mate or a quick anonymous lay. Yet, they seem obsessed with marital or romantic status. Refusal to comment just isn’t enough. It is seen as a result of you being single which in turn is seen as a result of someone having given you a hard time and having made you go through bad experience. I love men. My closest, most valued friends, my dad, and my wonderful bro are all men. I’ve always gotten along well with them and always had good memories of my relationships. This however may not be something that I want to share with a complete stranger, about 45 seconds into a chat. On the other hand I do not enjoy the automatic assumption that if I do not bare my innermost soul, it means that I am a bitter, betrayed, cast-off spinster. I wish someone would please explain to me why this question is so important.

And then, there’s “do u have pic?” or in worse cases “do u have cam?” Try as you might, you cannot explain to them that you have neither and don’t want them either. “How can this be?” they wonder, “How can anyone come to chat without a pic or cam?” no is not a good enough answer. Then they want u to see their cams or pics. If u say you r not interested they take umbrage. It is useless to try to explain that you actually like the anonymity of chat. That looks are completely immaterial as you are not there to look for a groom, only to find another human being with half a brain that you can talk to. That all you are there for is a conversation. Maybe a little mental stimulation if you are lucky.

“Stimulation? Ok good. What is your figure/vital statistics?” whoa! Hold on there! Where did that come from? Then, one realises that to these twerps, stimulation and titillation are synonymous. The idea of non-sexual stimulation is non-existent. Hence, at this point, it is wise to use the ignore function (thank god for small mercies!) again unless you want this to disintegrate into what is called “hot-chat” which is what they all seem to be after anyway. And if it is not hot chat then it is “can we meet?” Now, the thing is…… I’ve only known this person for something like 10 min (if that). How the hell am I supposed to decide if I want to meet them? Based on what? They could be a serial killer or a mass murderer for all I know! If you say you are undecided, a repeat of the whole emotional “am I such a bad person/ don’t u trust me” rigmarole recurs.

And, this is a new trend, seems like at least 80% of the people in any chat room these days is looking for “sex chat/ hotchat/ roleplay/ cyber”. Wonder what THAT says about the Indian “culture” that our netas make so much noise about. Repressed, sex starved, and taboo ridden as we are, it is hardly surprising that the anonymity of a chat room brings all the perverts crawling out of the woodwork. I have taken to replying to a “hi ASL pls” with a “clean chat only pls”. This usually makes the more “sorted out” sort of hot chatters leave immediately, thank god for small mercies! However there are the persistent pervs…who will spend a lot of time trying to convince you to engage in sex chat. And being a mother and a “non virgin” automatically makes you an automatic target for daft dialogues like “since you are not a virgin why cant we engage in adult chat?” what’s the state of my hymen got to do with chat anyway? Sex is a communication of love between me and my man and I see no need to either discuss the details of my sex life with a complete stranger, nor to pretend to have sex with one!
Why, after all this, do I bother to continue chatting, one may ask? Simple. For every 30 twerps I meet, and ignore, I end up running into one person who has half a brain and maybe some taste and (miracle of miracles) decent or good English. And of 30 of these, one or two may even challenge or interest me. Not bad for a basic destressing activity that I engage in while I work!

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