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Self-conscious overtures around a new group of old friends

I am 56, solvent, fit, bespectacled, male, and a member of two alumni WhatsApp groups. Recently a schoolmate got in touch with me, wanting me to be a part of my batch’s alumni group. Having been out of touch with most of my schoolmates for some 40 years, I was excited. A third group, and the earliest connect! So, I said, yes, yes.



The next day I had the invitation to this WhatsApp group. I accepted, instantly.



Then, nothing. There seemed to be, apart from me, six people in the group — three men and three women. I recognised the names of all the three men (including the one who had got in touch with me), and possibly one of the women. The messages included photographs of sweets, and a couple of videos taken from the Net. The people in the group already seemed to know one another, for there were birthday greetings and an invitation for a celebratory movie. But there seemed to be nobody who was aware of my having joined the group.



And then one of the women published a longish, nostalgic mail, the kind ubiquitous on the Net, listing 10 reasons why the past was so great. When no one responded, she asked, rather plaintively: “Does no one in this group read or write?”



I had been two days in the group, and was wondering how to make an entry. The writer in me recognised an opportunity here. Introducing myself, I wrote a few lines admiring a video she had sent, and agreed with a couple of comments from her nostalgia list. Then, to indicate that I was not taking her list casually, I disagreed with one of the points on the list. And asked for her response.



There was silence for an entire day. By WhatsApp standards, a silence that long is the geological equivalent of an entire ice age.



One of the men now messaged: “Are you Tejinder Singh?” I agreed, added my surname, and to make things clearer, told him he and I were in the same section for three years. He wanted to know whether I had been in the same school bus. I said no.



Silence. Another WhatsApp ice age passed.



The next set of exchanges went something like this: “S. wants to include Ravi in our group. Who is this Ravi? We need an intro before including anybody.”



“You’re right, we should not have a big group.”



And then, from the person who had ignored my response: “We should only have a small group; and take only those we feel comfortable with.”



For me, the sense of being totally unwelcome had been building up. And so, now I began to feel as welcome as a horsefly with gangrene at a birthday party; or as welcome as a clutch of woolly aphid on the rose given by a loved one. My innards became a boiling volcano.



As the volcano roiled inside, I wondered why it was that I had allowed myself to get hit so badly. It was like school time, all over again. I recognised the need, the deep desire to be wanted, to be accepted, and then the utter misery of getting rejected.



Various thoughts paraded through my mind. One was that I now viscerally understood what it felt to be excluded. I considered two options: to weep and drain myself of all emotions; or to sleep. I chose the latter.



A day had passed since then: another WhatsApp ice age! I am already seeing this alumni group at a distance, like a far-off mountain seen through the bottom of a cola bottle. Occasionally a desire rises in me of being welcomed again: but like the steam of a tea cup on a windy day, it is not strong enough to enter my nostrils and entice me.



The messaging in the group has resumed. The quality of Ravi is now being advertised: “He works with the World Bank!” “Yes, but the group better be small.” I wonder, what is it day after day to feel marginalised, be unseen.



So, what should I do? Bare my boiled heart, like Hanuman, to this group and hope for the best (while fearing the worst!); quietly de-link from this group; or like a vipassana sadhak, tell myself that all emotions are temporary. Or should I simply summon the image of a grey-haired, distinguished-looking man rolling in the aisles because he didn’t get toffee, and like Professor Lupin, point my wand, and say “Riddikulus”!



Do tell me: though not on WhatsApp!



tejibhogal@gmail.com



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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 3:22:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/selfconscious-overtures-around-a-new-group-of-old-friends/article8433754.ece

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