TODAY -

How Facebook Changed Me

Chingkheinganba Thangjam *

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"Indomcha, nungairiba nattro? Eeche Langlen di phone su paikhatpide. Nanaobi do chaorammani. Mayaa hourabo maabo?" Yes, that's an absolutely rare moment for me getting to talk to an almost estranged aunt with a not-so-recently married daughter whose voice I've longed to hear for months on end. And no, I'm not going to translate that. If you don't speak Meiteilon, get a friend from Manipur to tell you what it means.

The aunt replied, in one breath, audibly excited, "Eh eebungo! Nang hingiboire. Asssh. Kuireda! Nang Phesbook leitro. Phesbook ta loi yaobani. Nanaobi maron thokemmi. Noi nache Langlen na bheedeeo ga loi nammaga Phesbook ta hapkramni." I'm not translating that either. (Come on. I'm not that bad. Don't worry. I've put footnotes for you.)

Then comes the fashion guru cum trend-setter at work. "Yo dude! You should totally check it out! It's all there. Priya's got the body. She's the bomb, man! Rocking party they had last Saturday. Let me give you that. Shame, you aren't on Facebook."

And now, here's my successful businessman friend - successful to a celestial degree. "We live in a global village now where reality as we know it exists within a web of digitally interlinked ideologies, philosophies and relationships. You call yourself an IT professional and yet you are not in the game. Which era do you actually live in? I'm sorry I've to ask you this. I don't get it. Why don't you have a Facebook account? You have zero online presence. Have you realized that? Think about it."

That, pretty much, sums it all up. The world has spoken. So, can I now say a few words of my own please?

I'm not going to say anything to the aunt for the moment. I'll wait till I go to Manipur someday so I can deliver my speech personally - preferably standing on a nicely made dais - after eating boiled pig ears and curried sliced cow tongue all washed down with a generous flow of sekmai machin. Rice beer from Mao or Maram will do very nicely too.

This one's for the cool dude from the office: Yo! Priya's cool, yo! Yo yo yo! Ya freakin' right yo! But, sir, have you ever sat down to think about the possibility of Priya not knowing you actually exist? To me, you seem to be living on Facebook only. (The next sentence, in Erik Von Daniken style.) Is it possible, you don't exist in Priya's world? Of course, we should be optimistic; according to Physics, dimensions could sometimes converge. No offence, yo! Peace!

And this one's for the highly intellectual professional cyber-guru who reeks of decayed concentrated techno-philosophical excreta: Oh thank you very much for telling me that. I'm sorry if my 'lifestyle' doesn't look wholesome enough to you. But what do you mean by "online presence". Do I look like an illegal Viagra dealer? If that's what you think, I declare perpetual war on you, your family, your clan, your tribe, your community, your country and even on your old sick buffalo struggling to chew its last ever cud somewhere in the middle of some nowhere-land. Actually, it's alright. The buffalo is OK. She's fine. But you, oh yes, I declare everlasting war on you, brother! I'll come creeping in the dead of the night like a ninja and finish you off. I'll come ramming through your door and roaring like a drunken Viking! Trust me, I'll cause a major stampede right where you live. I won't hesitate to organise a proper ethnic cleansing exercise if I have to. I hope you weren't calling me a Viagra peddler when you talked about "online presence". You better not call me that, brother! I love you. Oh by the way, I heard you're collaborating with a female extraterrestrial being from a binary star system in Alpha Mortuary via Facebook. Is that true? And I also heard you're waiting for the moment she'd send you a one trillion megapixel photo of her green space mammaries? Ah, looking at the way your business and personal relations have branched out even to uncharted areas of the Universe, I'm sure you've treated her to your special ningjoongcookchookpheng nanoparticle-fortified soup by now. And how's your boson-based armpit deodorant delivery algorithm coming up? It doesn't look like you've made much progress there. You smell of a potent mix of cat vomit, soiled socks and fish liver oil right now. You aren't trying to turn yourself into a biological weapon, are you? Could I ask you something please? I know you're a very busy person but when is your next bath scheduled? I'll do all I can to declare it a Galactic Holiday at least.

What we have read above probably makes me sound slightly like a Stone Age Ideology Evangelist but no, I am not making an attempt to undermine the importance of social media here as I know what it is and I kneel humbled by its awesome power. In fact, I like to call it an indispensable part of human evolution and it has, to a mind-boggling extent, transformed communication in its entirety by ushering in an era of virtualization, the benefits of which I cannot even begin to list here. It will be highly imprudent on my part if I say social media has done no good for humanity. I see businesses prospering, meaningful thoughts spreading across borders, humanitarian missions actually becoming fruitful and people sharing and critiquing each other's ideas all powered by it. This is simply undeniable. However, the flipside of that is what I have been gravely bothered by.

"Turns out she's not like how I thought she'd be." I hear this very often and each time I hear it, I shudder at the thought of a disease that is rapidly gaining epidemic proportions. Reality, for a growing number of people, is no longer attractive or even practical. We have stopped working on our real physical selves and every usable bit of energy and creativity has been channeled towards creating and maintaining an avatar that lives in a non-existent electronic world. In almost all cases, this avatar is not a reflection of the human being behind a user account. It is more precisely a scrambled block of data lost in a labyrinth of dirty streets somewhere in the middle of a digital ghetto where fantasy overrides reality. In this dream world, everything is beautiful; everything is achievable and you can be anyone or anything you want to be. You are free. You are shapeless and without form. Here, you are king. You are God. You can create and you can destroy - at will. But, the moment you open the front door of your real world house and step out, everything changes. The summer sun is actually hotter than what you imagined. The winter frost can bite off your toes and leave you maimed forever. People on the streets do not know you at all. They pass by you without even noticing you are there. You suddenly become a ghost. This, is the real world. In this world, physical interactions, real smiles and handshakes, real punches on the face and real kisses on the lips matter. Here, you have to pay attention to what you wear and how you smell. Your tone of voice says more than the words you speak. It sounds like a cruel place, I know, but welcome to the Real World. Please have a seat.

On Facebook, on my Wall or Fence or Hedge or whatever it is call, someone posts "Hey!!!! We should catch up right now. Long time no see!!! (Followed by two lines of exotic smileys and emoticons)" It immediately catches my attention and sure enough, I phone this friend and ask, "Hey! You're right. A beer is long overdue. So, catch up this evening? A respectable bar has just opened nearby. It's a good place." Now, I have more questions than answers. He says in a voice that does not reflect the supposedly excited language he used on my "Wall" at all - and the smileys just do not seem to be present anymore, "Oh. I'm actually feeding my daughter right now. The mom's not home, you see." I feel like asking, "Well, why the hell did you say we should catch up right now then, you blistering degenerate of an uncalibrated reproductive machine?" but instead I tone it down and say, "Oh ok. No worries at all. By the way, when's the next baby due?" to which he replies proudly, "In six months, she will be here on Earth! Can't wait anymore!" My guess is right; they're already making more babies - and they will definitely post several grainy, hazy, blurry mobile phone photographs of their hideous offspring very soon on Facebook.

Fifteen minutes after briefly talking to Mr. Universal Father and just as I am starting to question the Purpose of Life all over again, Rudy (name changed to protect privacy although he is not at all a rapist or a terrorist) calls me and screams amid blaring traffic somewhere in the city, "I just got out of the god damned exhibition. The photos looked good on matte paper. Beer? 'Yes' or 'no' answer please. I'm very thirsty." I say, "Yeah. Sure. Yes. Yes. But where?" He has already hung up. Three minutes later, he calls again and says, "Nameless Bar. Near your house." and disconnects again. As I am slipping on my jeans, the phone rings again. It is Rudy once more. He says, "Get there right now but do not start before I arrive. If you do, serious misfortune will befall on you." The phone call is over - again. I like individuals like Rudy. I think they understand life better. They understand humour. They reserve euphemism for use only in art and in matters of politics and law. Also, he does not display his work on a Facebook Wall. He does it on Exhibition Walls.

Have you ever been in an abusive relationship? You know you are suffering and you want to get out of it. You know you are doing yourself more harm than you can imagine but you are powerless. Something you do not understand has overwhelmed you. In the name of love and commitment, you feed the devil more and more hoping someday it will have been fed enough to set you free. But, the truth is, it is you who has to walk away and not the devil. Do not worry, it will not come after you. It is too fat and obese to chase you after you leave. That said, it will, however, continue haunting you with memories of its fearful face. Facebook - and social networking - does the same thing to us. No matter how much you feed it, it is just insatiable and it will keep asking you for more. It will make you feel sad if you have not updated your status in twenty four hours - even if you have done absolutely nothing worthwhile. You have no other choice than to fake happiness, success and achievement. You will hold yourself responsible for the death of your neighbour's grandmother if you did not 'like' the photo of some snake god posted by someone from Brazil. But, if you are Rudy, none of that will matter. You will step out the door and face the sun and the frost. You will make real friends in the neighbourhood and on the streets. You will realise the three-legged dog who lives in the junkyard nearby is a lot more personable and sincere than your digital avatar friends.

Not so long ago, I went to see a friend. I did not call them first. I simply went over and knocked at their door. This was how I was greeted: "What!! You're still alive. I thought something terrible had happened to you. No status updates. Nothing from you. You are not even on Facebook anymore."

I said, "Yes, you are right. I'm dead. This is Chingkhei's ghost standing here."

Now, I have become a dead man. And that is how Facebook changed me. It has changed my status from 'living' to 'dead'.

Rather elaborate notes for non-Meiteilon speaking readers:

Meiteilon: One of the languages spoken in Manipur. Also the official language of the state.

English translation of first Meiteilon section: Aunty, you're fine, aren't you? Eeche Langlen never answers my call. Nanaobi must've have really grown big now. Has she got teeth already?

Eeche: Elder sister. Meiteis don't have a word for cousin sister/brother. An older male cousin is an elder brother and an older female cousin is an elder sister. Younger ones are all eechal and eenao. Don't mistake this for a deficient vocabulary. We like to keep our relationships as close and simple as possible.

Nanaobi: A common pet name for children. Some of us decide to continue using it even after we enter adulthood because it's a sweet sounding word. It's Nanaobi and not Nairobi, ok?

English translation of second Meiteilon section: Son! Are you still alive? It's been so long. Don't you have Phesbook (Facebook)? It's all there on Phesbook (Facebook). Nanaobi can speak now. Your sister Langlen has even taken bheedeeo (videos) and uploaded on Phesbook (Facebook).

Phesbook: The /f/ sound doesn't exist in Meiteilon. To create the f sound, the jaw is held nearly closed. The upper backside of the bottom lip is pressed very lightly into the bottom of the top teeth. Air is pushed out the mouth between the top teeth and the upper backside of the bottom lip. (http://www.pronuncian.com/Lessons/Default.aspx?Lesson=135) Now, to get the authentic Meiteilon Phesbook sound, the /f/ is replaced by - this is difficult for me to explain - a sound produced by sticking the lips together tightly and blowing air out in an explosive manner. So, you get this explosive 'ph' sound followed by 'esbook' and that becomes Phesbook. Right. Just ask anyone from North East India to demonstrate it for you. We're all equally good at this.

Bheedeeo: This is a Meiteilon style of saying 'video'. There is no /v/ sound. There is only 'bhee'. This is again achieved by incorporating the explosion technique we discussed earlier. Apparently, we learned this from the Bengalis - fine people by the way. Visa is not visa; it's bheeja.

Sekmai machin: An absolutely nasty distilled alcoholic drink enjoyed in Manipur. It's highly inflammable. It burns with a bright blue flame and leaves no residue. Need I say more? NASA might want to source it to power their next generation rocket engines.

Mao-Maram: Place in North Manipur where I grew up. I'm part Mao-Maram part Meitei part everything really if you ask me.


* Chingkheinganba Thangjam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at chingkheinganba(dot)thangjam(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on July 30, 2014.


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