I moved from Mumbai to Dallas over two years ago. My social media contacts have yet to make the move. These India-based acquaintances, relatives, neighbours, literary connections, ex-colleagues, and myriad other “friends” continue to clog my social media feed with their intimate, by-the-minute posts. Walking down an aisle at Barnes & Noble or stuffing my mouth at Chipotle, I simply have to turn on my phone to be transported back to India’s lived reality. Someone is venting live from a two-hour traffic jam. Someone else is going viral with a poem inspired by a recently-held protest march. And almost everyone seems to have an opinion about the Indian government’s antics. Throw in videos, photos, and first-person journalistic selfies into the mix, and what one gets is a chastising reminder of the chaotic, polluted, maddening, and madly exciting existence that most non-resident Indians are grateful to have escaped.
But what draws me to social media is precisely what makes me long for India – the chance to bask in the Indianness of Indians, in all their argumentative, hyper-expressive, and mocking glory.
As a resident of the US, I never thought I’d say this: It is the social-media outspokenness of my India-based contacts that continues to remind me to remain politically acute, to speak truth to power, and to have the “audacity of equality” (courtesy Hassan Minaj) in this land of the supposedly free and fearless.
Indians and social media
Without social media and its feed of wokeness from thousands of miles away, I would forget to be rankled by injustices, forget to register my protest – however feeble or futile – against outrages committed against me or those around me. Through witnessing the withering and unfettered commentary of my Indian contacts, I am saved from the fallacy of quietism posing as self-preserving intelligence.
No, there is nothing intelligent about making peace with injustice. Nothing intelligent about remaining an unquestioning cogwheel within a fascist consumerist framework. The Indians populating my slice of virtual India continue to astonish me with their impassioned resistance against the forces closing in on their liberties.
Maybe it is because India is still new to the buffet of capitalism, yet to learn the etiquette of living under an oligarchy. My Indian social media contacts are still shocked by the unstoppable fusion of government and corporations – something that most Americans have accepted as the inescapable backdrop to a stressful, over-worked, and expensive existence spent in the service of corporate interests. Slavery has not been abolished in America – it has just been expanded to include all races. Critics of globalisation would argue that American slavery is being extended to include the whole world.
My Indian social media contacts are going blue bemoaning their fellow-citizens’ enslavement by government policies hellbent on turning a billion people into tracked and numbered cattle. Given their inordinate number of posts and tweets, it is evident that my network of chatterati are sacrificing their livelihoods and their free time in the hope that their virtual activism will somehow, through a groundswell of protest, yank off the fig leaves of nationalism and religious conservatism to expose the sleight-of-hand policy makers must perform to serve their corporate lords while pretending to serve the people. At certain moments, when someone has posted an article or link containing what seems like irrefutable proof of the malignant forces at work in India, it would seem that the war has been won and that the masses will finally spit out the twin teats of majoritarianism and xenophobia to demand answers from those in power. But those moments are as ephemeral as one’s likes, retweets, and shares. Within a matter of hours or days, the temperature cools, the collective pulse has normalised, and things are back to feeling like the slow insertion of cold steel into one’s veins.
‘Keep on speaking’
I want to tell my committed, concerned and ultra-expressive India-based social media contacts that their brave tweets, posts, shares, and likes do matter. I want to tell these “friends” of mine – these soul brothers and sisters – that their relentless political truth-telling, social critique, and score-keeping is adding to the world’s reserve of moral alacrity and goodness. Keep on speaking, posting, tweeting, and venting. Keep booing the orgy between Big Data and Big Brother. Alarming and creepy as it may be, someone is always listening. Those with sympathetic ears are listening too, be they in Durban or Dallas. We are deriving immense strength from your outspokenness. We return repeatedly to the well of the feed to replenish our hearts with the daring you so generously demonstrate. We smuggle these packets of pluck back into our grey, First World lives, lived under the omnipresent reach of corporate authoritarianism, where we bide our time for opportune moments to dazzle ourselves and those around us with a display of guts and gumption, reminding us all of our human imperative – to #SpeakTruthtoPower #ConsequencesBeDamned!