There is a lot in common between joining tuition classes and being on social media, observes Ashish Sharma.
I grew up in an era when there was no social media. But Kolkata tuition classes in early 2000s came close enough.
My classmates would sign up to multiple classes, to reap more than just the fruit of education.
They did this to become part of as many social networks as possible.
I call this tuition media, which is similar to social media now.
Guys and girls from various schools would gather at tuition centres, to innocently (or advantageously) spend an hour or two together in the evening.
The tuition teacher would act like an Internet forum moderator, facilitating the stream of gossip and nonsense that we see on social media today.
The pursuit of education was put off as romantic ties arose frequently in that heady atmosphere.
Young men and women would read in close proximity, beyond the gaze of their parents, who saw tuition media as an intellectual space and approved wholeheartedly of it.
This is in contrast with the parents' negative view of social media now.
Then, the young would avoid parents at home by joining tuition classes.
Today, they avoid their parents on Facebook by joining WhatsApp.
But there was no Facebook then to check out looks. So, we exchanged glances in classes to see who blushed first.
Reddened cheeks were the equivalent of a Facebook like.
Tuition classes were used for self-promotion -- like Facebook.
Love poems and gossip were written on chits and passed around.
In social media, the popularity of a piece can be known from the number of likes, re-tweets, or page views it generates.
The metric in my day was the number of ticks and remarks chuckling on the chit's margins.
The reworking of existing poems to mock the romantic circumstances of a classmate and the composition of entirely original works were also integral to tuition media.
Some chits would travel at astonishing speed and go viral.
These modest-looking chits demonstrated students' skills in sharing, recommendation, and copying -- what we see on Facebook today.
The strong appetite for nonsense was exploited to the hilt.
It was not just chits that travelled, but images too.
Students would mount a multimedia campaign on the walls of tuition toilets.
Girls would draw hearts, boys would draw organs.
Walls were smeared with intelligent discourse, just as Facebook is today.
But unlike social media, writing on toilet walls was neither done for critical acclaim nor financial rewards.
Therefore, it was the purest form of art. But much like modern social networks, students would respond to messages.
A broken-hearted boy would ask: "God, why does this shit happen to me?"
Scribbled reply: "Don't worry. There are plenty of fish in the sea."
Another put forth the philosopher's dilemma: "If you romance a chicken, and no one's looking, are you still a creep?"
All these are reminders that no matter how much the communication tools change, our behaviour tends to stay the same.
However, since the rise of smartphones, toilet media has declined, a friend said. But as someone who has to clean toilet walls, I beg to differ.
However, the great merit of toilet media was one did not have to be the president to add one's voice to the conversation.
The walls were open to everyone.
Predictably, girls and boys used it as a back channel for gossip and flirtation.
I was fascinated with these communication forums, and yet I could not make a mark there.
I grew sullen and desperate. Thus, I, Net Sherpa, spent all my teenage years on a web that lacked social media. But that was a different era.
Few were interested in computers. And my own interest in the Web was sparked by my not being able to make friends in tuition classes.
Now, online participation is not seen as shameful, but normal.
The teenagers I meet are attracted to social media not because they are misfits. But because they use it to extend their romantic affairs beyond tuition classes.
Lead image used for representational purposes only
Photograph: Rediff Archives