Ripples of happiness pass over me when the photograph attached to the e-mail pops up. It is from my childhood friend in the US. He has since greyed and developed a paunch like me. Flanked by his expanding brood of children and grandchildren, he is grinning from ear to ear. I can’t imagine that I am looking at a reflection of his flesh and blood after half a century. We first met at school and became fast friends within no time. We used to spend time together during most weekends. We even used to sleep over at each other’s place. I can’t explain in lay terms the chemistry of our friendship, nor can I rationalise it with scientific jargon. We remained inseparable, as thick as thieves, till it was time for me to return to India.
After I came back, we continued to write to each other regularly. The aerogramme cover of the Postal Department in vogue then took ages to cross the Atlantic Ocean and the Alps. But the period, I used to spend in anticipation of a letter from him was so sweet and well worth it. Will the postman come today with the American Government’s own tell-tale blue cover? Through those letters, we kept abreast of landmarks in each other’s life — from his first date and love to my own arranged marriage!
The chronicle of our ‘rites of passage’ through life, though nothing spectacular, was made more interesting because it came from a dear friend in a far away land. Then the world was swamped with information technology complete with its package of computers, mobile phones, laptops and e-mails. Did that bring us any closer? I doubt it. The first thing to go was the sensitive touch of letters penned by hand. Our typed messages now flew through the air over the Alps and the Atlantic with a speed akin to light. (They say messages don’t go flying in the air; they are transmitted via cables under the sea.)
But how could ‘notable’ events be happening all the time, in quick succession, to be worthy of reporting on a regular basis? So, we perforce resorted to conveying mundane details of our daily existence by e-mail. What do you think of Jimmy Carter or President George W Bush? What did you have for dinner? Do people really sleep on sidewalks, under an open sky? We fell back on nostalgia — recalling our childhood days and adventures — to keep the wheels of exchange moving and interesting. Do you remember our first foray into McDonald’s? That was hell of a pillow fight we had at your place!
Instead of bringing us closer with its speed of delivery, the e-mail put us off with the inanity of its content. Even love, saturated, withers. That is a fact of life. Then, a miracle happened. Just out of the blue. My inbox was hacked, blocking access to my messages — both inward and outward. Though it did not result in any material loss, it did affect me deeply. I lost the e-mail contact of my American friend, without which I just couldn’t reach him — there was no other way. I did not even have his postal address! As days, weeks and months passed by, I realised that I, in fact, had so much to discuss with him.
For months, I felt listless and dejected. I realised what longing was all about — once again from scratch, during the course of my life. Finally, my saviour came in the form of Facebook, the social networking site that connects people all over the world.
I tracked my friend down with the help of a whiz kid and sent him a tracer. It was quite exhilarating and the anticipation of a reply from him brought back memories of the days of yore when I used to wait patiently for his letters. This was how he has responded — by sharing a cherished photograph that speaks volumes not only about his family, but also about our bonding over the years.
I had always been in his thoughts, he states matter of factly, as he was in mine. Ironically, our inability to communicate had actually accentuated our attachment! And, it made us realise that we still shared a strong bond, forged all those years ago. That was all we knew and all we needed to know. It’s so nice that technology, no matter how sophisticated, breaks down once in a while to teach us the truth of that statement.