Affection, Conversation & Everything Else That Digitalia Made Possible


Mid-week I stared at my computer screen wondering what to write. I had promised myself earlier this month that I would write more from the heart and less because it was ‘engaging content’. I struggled. I thought my love affair with this blog might have died. I thought my need to express my raging sentiments in an open space and throw my heart open to strangers might be a thing of the past. I need only have waited a day.

Yesterday I met Jinal. This was our fourth in-face meeting. The first time was years ago. Three different people who had no connection to each other, mentioned her in conversation. Who is this person that everyone wants me to meet, I wondered. A couple of days later, I found an email from her saying she had read my blog and would be in Mumbai and would I be free to meet her for coffee? Coffee turned into confessional, friendship came pouring out of that one conversation we shared. It continued over chats and emails written as if they were no different from that instant connection we made over the first coffee. Yesterday I told her I even remembered what she had said, that made me fall in love with her. See, that’s how Jinal is. Easy to fall in love with, easy to say that to.

We talked about the space that we both inhabit, this time as professionals. Years ago, when we first met, we were both like kids running around and clutching at the shiny, colourful thing that digital connectivity was. Now we each navigate it as business drivers shaping its numerous uses for commercial enterprise. We spoke of the new developments in the field, contrasted India and the US in their digital topographies. We compared notes on people that we knew in common.

jinal

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The Godrej India Culture Lab team, Parmesh Shahani (red teeshirt rockstar in the centre), Jinal (seated in center in red) and me (seated far right)

Then in the evening, Jinal went on to address a talk titled ‘Geographies of the Heart‘ at the Godrej India Culture Lab. I had wondered what it would be like to listen to a close friend, not over the cosy intimacy of a coffee but as she played a certain role on stage, cast with a projector and Powerpoint for co-actors. She spotted me and gestured to the row behind me. Her parents were sitting there. She opened her talk introducing them to the gathering as well and admitting that she was nervous because this was the first time they were to hear her speak on stage. I knew then, that my apprehensions were unfounded. Jinal would be Jinal, even labelled with a fancy corporate designation and in an impressive setting, no different from the warm girl I’d met in a suburban coffeeshop. It’s hard to describe why her talk affected me so profoundly. Maybe it is the girl herself and how sensitive and warm she is herself. But I think it also has a little to do with the story she told. I often feel it too.

We might be the only generation ever to know this painfully sweet thing. We grew up with single channel Doordarshan and now we navigate diverse connections of multimedia-enabled, access-layered communication. Communication is the building block of relationships, isn’t it? And of attitudes, of thought and ultimately of action. Dare I even say it? Digital connectivity has opened up a new lifetime for us. Jinal and I might never have met, had it not been for blogs, for common friends who in turn were linked to us, not by a shared school or workplace but by the platforms that we were exploring together. Her ideas shape some of mine as I imagine mine shape hers.

I became an active voice in conversations about the LGBT community because a friend, someone I met through digitalia again, was gay and going through a difficult time with her family. I found myself suddenly wearing the mantle of crusader for women’s rights when my personal diary became a source of interest (and very occasionally inspiration) for younger women who read it. My ideas about responsibility, about politics, about feminism, about culture, about art and writing and about myself changed and evolved through these conversations. I was all set to be a good middle-class Tamil girl who would go on to a respectable career, an appropriate marriage and family life. Instead, I became ME (none of these things but, curiously so much better). I often dwell on the problems digitalia has brought – the lack of human interaction, the unrealistic schedules and their effect on health, the hyper-stress laid on young adults. I don’t enough think about the many gifts it has brought us. Digitalia shaped my power, my place in the world. How much more of a blessing can that be?

It seems silly to me now that I would think that my love affair with my blog is over. That’s akin to my saying that my interest in life is done. Because this connection, this ability to talk to you, to a faceless stranger seeing my words on a computer screen or a smart device, this dissolving of geography, time, race, age and gender – this is what my life is about, has been for about half of it. I am so lucky. I am digital and that does not make me a robot. Quite the contrary, it makes me a global citizen, one who has the privilege of friendships across the globe, conversations & insights that aren’t money or country restricted. The world is my playground and I say that with immense gratitude.

This would be a good time to tell you that in the middle of this month, I completed a decade of being IdeaSmith. I can’t really remember the exact date but somewhere in the May of 2004, the word ‘IdeaSmith’ popped into my head as I looked at the sign up screen of a blogging platform. This journey has shaped me, given rise to interesting associations and brought me a career that fulfils and enriches me. Thank you so much, thank you for all the love and the connection that made this possible. What a wonderful 10 years it has been!

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