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Hopping on to the Bandwagon

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By Ratna Manucha

This morning when I checked the messages on my phone I saw that our family WhatsAap group was flooded with ‘Happy Birthday’ messages. Wondering whose birthday happened to be that day, I open the chat window to check and what do I see? It is my aunt’s birthday and everyone is flooding the group with messages. What’s wrong with that you may well ask? Well, my dear aunt (God bless her soul) passed on to the world yonder five years ago.

And I am left scratching my head whether to join the bandwagon and type a similar message or to write something on the lines of missing you… but the person whom I am missing is not there to read that, so for whom is this message intended? For all the relatives of the departed soul and for the extended family members who will read it, I guess. But what do I gain by this? On deep introspection, I realise it is actually FOMO, or the fear of missing out, or the herd mentality, call it what you will.

“Notice me!” Their messages seem to be crying out. “I’m part of the group too!”

The WhatsAap saga is not yet over. Ask those who have joined multiple WhatsAap groups and are chuffed with importance as they have to diligently go through all the umpteen messages that fill their inbox.

Ufff! I’m so busy…being busy. This is my school group, this is the local school group, this is the college group and one here is the local college group, then the neighbours’ group, but since we don’t really get along with two of them we have another group in which those two have been excluded (I hope they don’t read about it here!). And, of course one group is for the course mates, another for extended family, one for the immediate family…the list is endless.

On any given day, it begins innocently enough. It’s the birthday of one of the members in one of the groups. The messages start at midnight. One bright spark who generally keeps note of birthdays and anniversaries drops in a ‘Happy Birthday’ at the stroke of midnight. What follows is a flurry of messages, each more colourful than the last.

And then, halfway through the day, a message comes in the same group that AZ’s father, who had been ailing for quite some time, has slipped into the netherworld.

To the uninitiated, the chat history for that one day would read something like this –

A: Happy Birthday dear Zee!

B: Wishing you a very happy birthday Zee!

Zee: Thank you so much A.

Zee: Thank you so much B!

Similar messages, along the same thread…, happy birthday and thank you follow in quick succession, till this one crops up…

X: Folks, a piece of really sad news. AZ’s father passed away in his sleep this afternoon. The cremation is tomorrow.

Now, the chat history reads something like this…

G: That is terrible news. May God give strength to the bereaved family.

H: I met his father just last week. He seemed to be improving. Sad news. (This is from someone who will not waste an opportunity to let the members know that he is close to the family in question).

I: Happy birthday Zee! (Obviously this person has not read the latest message!)

J: Om Shanti.

K: Really sorry to read about the sad news.

K (again): Wishing you a very happy birthday Zee! (Talk about killing two birds with one stone!)

I (Good morning): AZ, so sorry to learn about your dear father.

In all this mayhem, once in a not so blue moon, one confused soul forgets the month and commits a faux pas by typing the following message –

Q: Happy birthday dearest S! Stay blessed!

Now the group is on overdrive once again. After about half a dozen messages felicitating S on his birthday, one conscientious soul drops this bombshell –

U: It is not S’s birthday today! It is next month!

Ooops!

And so it continues…

Cut to Day 2.

Some sleepy members of the group have finally woken up.

P: Happy belated birthday Zee! I’m sure the celebrations are still continuing.

P: Happy birthday R! (You see, today is another group member’s birthday).

In between this flurry of belated wishes for Zee and condolence messages for AZ and birthday wishes for R, someone posts pictures of AZ’s father’s cremation.

Now, the emojis of joined hands, hugs, crying faces flow fast and furious.

By late evening, the somber tone of the WhatsAap chats changes yet again.

T: On behalf of everyone in his group, I would like to wish M and O a very happy wedding anniversary. The day is not yet over! The night is still young! Better late than never!

And the saga continues…

(Ratna Manucha is an author and educationist)