Tehelka’s special issue on Youth & the Internet – Adventures in netistan has published a short article written by yours truly after much prodding from Shivam. I am quoted by my real name and this blog is not mentioned in the credits (DesiPundit is). I’m glad that the article is largely unedited although the title and excerpt is Shivams’ (or the editor). I see articles by other noted bloggers like Dina Mehta, Neha Viswanathan, Rashmi Bansal, etc.
The article is quoted in full below:
Pankaj Udhas is a disappointed man today. His evergreen hit, Chithhi Aaye Hai Watan Se, doesn’t evoke the same response in the diaspora audience as it did a few years ago. Long before Thomas Friedman discovered that the world was flat, it was already shrinking rapidly — so much so that you can be an Indian in every sense of the word even when miles away from the homeland. More than 65,000 students leave Indian shores every year to pursue higher education in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. In slang, they are often referred to as ‘FOBs’ (Fresh Off the Boat) — a term reminiscent of an era when people left their homes and loved ones only to see them again after years of disconnect and pent-up nostalgia. A reading of The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri will give you precious insights into an era untouched by the magic of the Internet. Yes, I call it magic because not too long ago it was almost unconceivable to even think of the many things that it manages to achieve today.
As Peter DeVries once delightfully said, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” It all started in the late 1980s and early 90s, when the price of an international telephone call dropped from tens of dollars to mere cents. Sons, whose doting mothers had reluctantly sent them away, could finally dutifully write down favourite recipes and make their own mess in the kitchen. If you can afford it, you might fly down almost every year to join your family at the dinner table, but most ‘PIGS’ (Poor Indian Graduate Students) like me rely on the limitless opportunities the Internet affords us to keep in touch with our roots — apart from home-cooked food, of course.
E-mail made letter writing obsolete, but we wanted more speed. Apart from calling home every week using a pin number you buy off the many international calling websites, the other favourite is the chat window. Visit any university computer lab, and you’ll see plenty of desi students hunched over the keyboard typing furiously, often to three or more people at the same time. Humble chat applications like MSN or Yahoo have evolved dramatically from being mere text windows to now being platforms for voice and video. Skypecast lets you indulge in random online conversations as you would at your college canteen via Skype, a VOIP-enabled chat service. Some folks in India set up a ‘livecast’, offering audio commentary for the Indian matches in this year’s World Cup and were joined by Indians from across the world, participating in online banter that you would only hear in living rooms. It was a much better alternative to refreshing your browser window every couple of minutes to check the latest score.
For the nostalgia addict, there is no better destination than YouTube, the online video sharing site. Within its extensive reserves, YouTube has something for everyone; from NFDC animated shorts (remember Ek Chidiya Anek Chidiya?) to the latest remix videos that get the moral police all riled up, to the now-seemingly-distant (I know, it hurts) clips of Sachin blasting Warne all over the park.
Youth outside India can be just as connected to daily happenings in the country as their peers back home. Every non-resident Indian has a favourite news portal that they read with their morning coffee and, what’s more, they even have regional language options. If they wish to rant about certain events in the country or wish to share hopeful news of the booming economy, they post their thoughts on their personal blogs.
Blogging has proven to be a far superior ‘connector’ than any national integration public service advertisement. Mile Sur Mera Tumhara has been replaced with Mile Opinions Hamare Tumhare; sometimes, they don’t, leading to what bloggers call flame-wars. But the explosion of the blog phenomenon has exposed today’s otherwise cloistered youth to a multitude of opinions. They can read and discuss topics of social, economic, and political importance or simply talk about their favourite movies and music.
For the fans of quick communication and Post-It notes, we have an Orkut generation which believes in ‘scrapping’ away to glory. Although sms-ese can be incomprehensible at times, Orkut is a virtual 24/7 school or college hangout where you run into and reconnect with long-lost friends and classmates. I know of many non-resident students who use Orkut to catch up on the latest happenings in the lives of their friends and to interact with them through its virtual communities.
As with all things, even the moon, there is a dark side too. The Internet has made staying in touch with your family, friends, and events in your country so much easier that you’re reluctant to step out and experience the new world that you live in. If you live and work on Devon Avenue (otherwise known as Gandhi or Jinnah Marg depending on the nationality of your neighbours) in Chicago, you can easily go for days without seeing a non-South Asian. Indians sometimes are just as reluctant as any other ghettoised immigrant group to step outside their comfort zone of familiar faces. This often leads to a sequestering of values and feeling trapped in a time warp unchanged from the day they stepped onto the new shores.
The Internet is a wonderful place and offers endless opportunities for individuals to connect with the rest of the world. So why restrict yourself to the boundaries of your geographic region? Step out and explore. You might just experience something that you might want to write about on your blog.