Mansi Bhatia

I am not getting into statistics, but more of us depend on email as a means of communication than ever before. The reasons, of course, are obvious.

And then there is the phenomenon called 'chatting' that has spread like wildfire across our country (and the world as a whole). People spend endless nights yakking about miscellaneous stuff with all and sundry on Yahoo, MSN, Rediff Bol, Indiatimes, ICQ and countless other messengers. And, of course, in the ubiquitous chat rooms. Crossing territorial, regional and continental barriers has never been easier.

Since itís such a fad, I tried being a part of the brigade that forms the statistical report for many surveys. I chatted last night.

Yes, I do have Yahoo and MSN messengers downloaded on my machine and I use them to keep in touch with friends and family across the world. But entering a chat room and talking to complete strangers is, well, a different ball game altogether. Since all my married friends were attending a 'couples only' party and there really was nothing worthwhile being aired on the idiot box, I decided to experiment.

And, boy, what a learning experience it was!

The first rule I understood upon entering the chat room was to never ever to use a girlís name as your chat ID. It's the worst thing you can do to yourself. If, on the other hand, male attention is what you have been craving for in real life, nothing could be better!

Of the 25 odd people in that particular chat room, 18 pounced on me the moment I entered. Daunting as it was, I tried being decent, courteous and extremely gracious by providing them with my a/s/l. But when 'a' equals 23 years, 's' stands for female and 'l' is Delhi, you are nothing less than a goddess!

I donít know what I had expected from these faceless strangers, but I do know I was at the receiving end of a lot of unanticipated and unwanted conversation. The most common query, of course, was, 'Wanna cyber?' I politely refused the first few invitations, but things got nasty after that. Never in my life have I heard such profanities being thrown left, right and centre. I am no prude, but I have never been so shocked. Itís amazing how people who, in real life would perhaps never use such abusive language, feel so uninhibited about such unabashed rudeness. You canít even imagine what such a verbal assault can do to oneís psyche; itís not the language as much as it is the attitude!

The good part, however, was that I could exercise my right to block such messages.

Not one to be cowed down so easily, I tried striking a conversation on the main platform. And what started on a flirtatious note caught the attention of some of the intellectual chatters scouting around for companionship. It was indeed mentally invigorating to enter into a debate on arranged marriages versus love marriages with them.

I soon realised my initial impressions were perhaps too biased against the entire populace that elects to air its views using this medium. Some people got bored and left the conversation, newcomers to the room chipped in with their opinions while many just served to increase the count of people on my ignore list.

But four males coherently kept up the discussion till the wee hours of the morning. It made me wonder why these guys were whiling away their time with strangers over a wire when they could actually be spending it with real people!

Why was it that they, and many others like them, were able to speak their hearts out on the Net but found it awkward to do so with existing friends? Where was the hitch? All these questions made me think how detached we are becoming from our real livesÖ and from the real people surrounding us.

We donít have time to exchange a decent conversation with our parents, but we sit till four in the morning talking to people weíll probably never meet in our entire lives. We donít share our sentiments with friends we have known since our school days, but we overflow with emotion in crowded chat rooms. We donít have time to read or cultivate new skills, but we have enough time and money to spare to spew profanities to people we donít even know!

Why are we moving away from secure territory into unforeseen lands? Is it the attraction of the unknown? Is it the allure of promised happiness? Is it escapism? Or does our generation just not believe in devoting time and effort to nourish existing relationships? Whether we conveniently blame not being able to talk to our parents on the 'generation gap;' or declare that our lives are too hectic to spare time for get-togethers with friends; or say it is relaxing to be anonymously uninhibited in chat rooms, I think something is missing in our lives. It is subjective and personal for each individual in those chat rooms, but that elusive 'something' is what they all seem to be running after.

Those four hours I spent in the chat room were an eye-opener for me.

I went there with a desire to know what it was all about; but, for so many others out there, it is a part of their daily regimen. They log in every day hoping to find that missing link. I realised that, even in that crowded room, each person was lonely. Everyone wanted someone to talk to (for whatever reason). There was such a crazy need to be noticed. To somehow attract attention. It was poignant to see strangers turning to each other for solace from the harsh realities of life. And, as much as some of you might find the entire experience exciting, I was saddened.

Ironically enough the room was called 'Friends Forever.'

I agree that the daily grind is monotonous. I accept that making new friends helps us grow. But, at the same time, one needs to do it right.

This entire episode made me understand one thing: A virtual relationship might provide the answer to your despairing needs but, believe me, nothing can beat a real hug from a real friend.

On that note, Mansi Bhatia signs off in preparation for a quick visit to an old friend.

Illustration: Lynette Menezes

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