At dinner recently, some of Delhi’s wisest and wittiest were discussing Facebook. Mostly bashing it for its superficiality: its pouting selfies, pseudo-Rumi quotes and corny jokes; the cute doggie pictures and endless holiday snapshots, the feel-good quizzes that link you to Cleopatra or Marilyn Monroe and tell you how brilliant and beautiful you are, the illusion of everyone living a lovely life happily ever after…. They also decried the futility of the alternative minority who relentlessly agonise over and “share” every negative and gloomy news and analysis from the comfort of their armchairs, without doing anything more about it. Those of us (like me) who are regular Facebookers put up a feeble defence but were mostly drowned out.
I’ve been on FB for almost 10 years now, and though I’ve had moments of boredom and satiation, I mostly enjoy it enormously. I find it a great space to share news and views, read a varied assortment of different articles that I otherwise probably wouldn’t see, hear about exhibitions, events and books I’ve missed, keep in touch with people I otherwise don’t meet, ask advice on everything from electronics to old school friends addresses – and of course find a free audience to vent on whatever is on my mind.
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I think it is all a question of whom you be-Friend. Its important not to indiscriminatingly accept every friend request. Also to switch off the “follow” option for those you can’t refuse but whose posts are a predictable bore. I keep my FB Friends down to 500 or so, and cull them regularly. They are people I actually know, with a sprinkling of some I don’t, but whose work I admire. My posts are generally Public, so anyone interested can follow and comment, but I don’t want to be flooded with hundreds of posts and pictures from unknown Facebookers. I know I probably miss out on many interesting, stimulating people, but one can’t be a Friend to the world! If someone writes an interesting or provocative comment or inboxes me I usually reply, and have made a few new Friends that way.
What I didn’t realise is that when one refuses a Friend request, that person automatically becomes a follower, (unless you actually block them)! I found this out years later, after I’d already acquired several thousand followers! Deleting or blocking them is a tedious, one-at-a-time process. So I’ve let them be, except when they turn out to be aggressively vile trolls, or excessively amorous gentlemen. For some reason, the majority of the latter are either from Kerala, Africa, or Manchester! Writing posts knowing that a few thousand unknown people can read them can be inhibiting, but I address my thoughts to those I actually know. This seems to work OK. I do occasionally get weird reactions, but by and large, people are friendly. I love the immediacy of FB feedback, but try not to get too obsessed with checking the number of Likes!
Since I write about all kinds of stuff, readers are sometimes baffled. It was amusing at Jaipur airport to have a young woman come up and tell me how much she loved the SARI DIARY but wished I didn’t write all that other “controversial stuff”…… She felt it “spoilt my image”. Coincidentally, the following fortnight, I met someone at a seminar who said she loved my views, but skipped “those endless sarees…”!! (I myself, by the way, am tiring of the Sari Diary, but mercifully only have another 5 weeks to go…) It is interesting (and baffling) to see what people respond to. Nothing can top the totally unexpected 7,000-plus likes and shares of my 70th birthday post, written quite casually in bed in Landour early that morning.
Its lovely when somebody says I’ve put in words what they’ve been feeling, and I often get extravagant compliments re those sari posts, but it’s important not to take all this too seriously. I had a salutary reality check the other day, when a young woman at our Bazaar came up to me and hesitantly asked if I was Laila Tyabji. On my answering in the affirmative she said, “Oh, I really wasn’t sure. You look so pretty in the photographs….”!! And I loved this one, in answer to someone’s flattering comment about my appearance: “She looks like about 95% of Bangalore/Delhi learned liberal urban elite ladies.. Do you not see them all around you in Delhi?” She then kindly added, “What she’s wearing though is seriously unique.”
What gets me down is the tit-for-tat mentality so many of us have succumbed to. If one writes anything critical about anything, people will immediately reply (sometimes plaintively, sometimes abusively) saying “how could you write such and such about X, without mentioning that Y did so and so…” (sometimes what Y did was literally centuries ago!) and any jokes about the ways of Hindu godmen or BJP politicians have to be matched by corresponding tales of crazy Maulvis and foolish Congressmen. This is tedious and blinkered, and partly the reason I gave up my Sunday Roundups. Sentiments get too easily “hurt” these days. We need to see humour and beauty wherever we find it. Life is not a ping pong match, with the whole objective hitting back the ball to the opposite court.
I meanwhile, will continue with Facebook, while refusing to Twitter….
(The author is designer and writer, and Founder Member and Chairperson of DASTKAR Society for Crafts & Craftspeople. The views expressed are Personal)