Poison Pen Writing

“We call this kind of thing ‘poison pen’ writing, when the writers are grown up, and they are held in universal loathing and hatred, considered the lowest of the low.” – Miss Potts

I grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton books – a new title purchased every week of my summer vacation – and this was among the little lessons I picked up from there. Anonymous letters were just not done. They were, I always thought, sent by people who hadn’t the courage to say what they wanted to your face. And courage was important.

Turns out, things have changed and how. Anonymous writing is now not only acceptable but even favourable. Recipients of such letters don’t burn the notes or throw them in the bin but publicise them on their ‘wall’ for everyone to see. Many do this even when the contents of the note are not complimentary – and this, it seems, is the new definition of courage.

In the past weeks or so, the Sarahah app has befuddled, puzzled and upset me. In case you have been fortunate enough to miss out on these notifications on your Facebook or Twitter timeline, Sarahah is an anonymous messaging service that lets people leave you ‘constructive feedback’. The recipient can then showcase these golden nuggets of feedback on their social media profiles.

Sarahah

So, there’s the shy little boy who finally professes his love for the girl who studied with him in high school. Cutesy and all. There’s also the counselor who gives you personality advice. And then there’s the disgruntled friend who complains you haven’t time for them, the random marriage proposer, the abuser, the positive thinker, the one who cannot give up SMS lingo on any platform whatsoever, the drunk messenger, and the wannabe who cannot stop shouting to the world how cool he/she is (and look, it just got validated). Last I heard, there are also people delivering threats and warnings through this app. Bullies, sadists, closet criminals. In an age where it is hard enough to protect ourselves and our loved ones (kids and teens included) from negativity and crime, do we really need yet another platform that facilitates negativity from behind a mask?

The sad truth is, given a chance, many of us want to vent, complain and lash out as opposed to applaud and celebrate. That’s how we are, we the people who get our rush from likes and comments on our daily breakfast.

It disturbs me. This show of one’s true voyeuristic nature behind a veil of anonymity. This thrill people are getting from spewing insults and abuse without coming out with them in the open. Giving in to this idle curiosity and wasting precious time over ‘feedback’ from some random person who hadn’t the heart or the interest to do it to your face. How valuable can such feedback be anyway if this so-called friend didn’t find it important to have shared it with you earlier? What is this desperate need for importance, the need to be thought about, even if the thoughts border on hatred, bullying and poison?

In essence, or so say the app founders, it is idyllic. Here are people who know you and might have advice or a nice thing or two to share. But the anonymity is what rattles me. What is the need to hide behind encryption? What stops you from posting this on someone’s wall through your profile, or heck, picking up the phone on them and saying it in as many words? But no. There’s an adrenaline rush in an anonymous message and it’s just not the same if someone brings this feedback up in conversation. When you get an anonymous message, it means someone found you important enough to be written to, in words of love, passion or hate. You are someone. It is this basic instinct and need to be acknowledged, recognised and held in some regard that this app and others like it seem to be catering to.

It really is heart-breaking to note how primal we remain, how easily swayed and dependent on others for our happiness. All it takes to stir us up is the beep of an incoming anonymous message.

Top 3 Tips to Survive an Awkward Phone Conversation

First, some creds. What makes me an authority on phone conversation tips? Just this – I am the queen of awkward. Many conversations with me are awkward, but phone conversations top the lot.

There’s something about not looking someone in the eye, not catching their facial expressions, and the very theme of talking on the phone (small talk) that just lends itself to awkwardness. Strange silences. Throat clearing. Repeating questions about the weather and “what did you cook for lunch/dinner?”. Asking whether “you can hear me?” a few times. Trying to sound chirpy and charged because hey, look who called. So, I have several years of experience in trying to evade, whine over, and eventually endure phone calls.

Awkward Phone Conversations

Here are the three valuable tips that have held me in good stead. Sharing this at the risk of personal offence to people I have tried these on – but hey, those times were genuine, I swear. Continue reading

In My Brown Skin

When I was in school, we didn’t have modern ideas about equality across communities, race and colour. (It is another story that equality was there anyway, without any of us talking about it much). So, it used to be fine and non-offensive to make personal remarks about someone’s hair-tie or school-bag or curly hair. It was all in good fun and nobody held it against anyone.

One afternoon, in the school bus, a classmate started a discussion about skin-colour. I think we were in class VIII or IX – that time when you start lingering in front of the mirror for longer moments than usual. She was a rather chubby, loud girl who loved airing her opinions about everything from the food at the canteen to the school song. Continue reading

No, Depression Does Not Just Mean Sadness

“I am depressed.”

It seems like such a simple thing to say, really. We are human beings, capable of feeling a vast range of emotions. So, when it starts raining just on a morning you had wanted to picnic, you can say it’s depressing. As is the taste of the food, the colour of the walls, your mood after watching a TV series. We are all ‘depressed’ about something or the other, almost every day. Continue reading

Why Evenings Have Changed

Sunset
It is early evening. I can hear the birds chirping excitedly, convening to discuss the night’s meal and if the chicks are going to be happy with what they are taking home. The lights have started coming on in the windows I can see from mine; there are candles in some. An old man is slowly walking on the pavement, carrying a bagful of pastries for his grandchildren. I can hear their faraway giggles from the neighbourhood’s park; they are glad the swings are no longer covered in snow. Perhaps they aren’t his grandchildren. Perhaps his grandchildren are away, in another country, and he only gets to talk to them on Christmas and birthdays. Maybe he is taking the pastries for his wife. Maybe for himself. But I digress.
Continue reading

Chasing Sunshine

Last week, from Monday through Friday, the sun came up every single morning. It was bright and sunny at 6 AM and the rest of the day remained pleasant, even if not too warm. This was a welcome change from the long winter months of grey skies and snow and rare, if any, visits from the sun. I determined to make the most of this change over the weekend when I would venture out into the sunshine and let it warm my winter-beaten fingers and toes. I would also finally discard my black fur jacket which has been my constant companion in the last few months. While it is pretty and smart (considering I made sure R spent quite a lot of time helping me pick one), I have tired of its weight and its brooding reminder of how winter beats down on us still, relentless and forlorn. Continue reading

The Sounds of Solitude

Vaccum cleaning that starts at 7 AM in the morning. Drilling work at the house being constructed across the street. Wailing toddlers making a last attempt at looking miserable so the parents would say it’s okay, school is off. Barking dogs enthusiastic about their morning walk.

Who says the mornings here are quiet?

My little residential area here in Vienna is full of odd noises throughout the day. Things slow down in the afternoons, when the leaves sway in the wind and the rainclouds pour. But there is still the sudden shout from the kids going back home from school, a distant volley of giggles from a group of college students. And sometimes, people calling out to each other in a mix of sounds that could even be Hindi. And yet, I hear a lot of, “Isn’t it absolutely quiet there? Don’t you get bored?” Continue reading

Exclaim Not

We learnt many punctuation marks at school. A variety of ways to express emotion in writing. Figures of speech. Multiple sentence forms. And yet, today, all of that has boiled down to, for so many of us, a single measly symbol. The exclamation mark. It has become the universal symbol of expressing all sorts of emotions – from urgency to happiness and disdain to anger. Now while I don’t deny that all of us have the right to exclaim as much as we want, I cannot also deny the intense reaction it provokes in me. Continue reading