Connectivitis

I had a bad attack of it, I remember, when I was running to my laptop and Facebook fifteen times a day. At times nothing came but I still tried, most frustrating, I must say. Went to my doctor and he said: ‘Connectivitis? That’s not the usual term. Are you talking about the connective tissue disease?’ ‘What on earth is that?’ I asked. ‘CTD? Well, connective tissue means things like fat, bone or cartilage. Do you have a stretchy skin or bleeding gums?’ Hell, no! I said, I gotta go to the FB fifteen times a day, that’s all. ‘Just fifteen times? That’s connectivitis mellitus, type two, like diabetes mellitus, you know what that is?’ I not only do, I have it, it’s Latin for ‘honeyed flow’, suits FB to a T, even if Facebook doesn’t have a T in it.

But I must say that I was impressed. This doctor of ours is a busy man. It was close to a wonder that he had heard about connectivitis mellitus, which is a viral disease, but of the mind. It comes from an excess of connectivity and might even become chronic unless measures are taken & pronto. The virus is everywhere, every time you log into the Facebook. The kind of things that your friends post – and you yourself help in spreading the virus the moment you share them. You even like them, the more the irony: it’s like giving a Like to the dengue virus. But the connectivirus is as ingenuous as it is insidious. People who haven’t thought of you on any of the other 364 days congratulate you on your birthday and you are pleased. Friends of yours are excited about everything from the American elections to the coming Indo-Pak war, you gather and are excited yourself. There’s so much happening in the world and YOU are a part of it, you are a part of history in the making. It’s like being a soldier in the Crimean War & nearly getting nursed by Florence Nightingale.

Fact is that during the Crimean war of 1853-56 more soldiers were killed in a cholera epidemic than in battle – as I read somewhere. Apparently the cholera started in China and took four years to reach Europe, killing combatants and non-combatants with equal disregard on the way. I know, I know, FB is not about war, it is all about peace – you’ll say – if peace could only kill. It can & it does. It kills the mind and not the body, that is why it does not get 250 years in the nick every time the case comes up before the International Peace Crimes Tribunal. I asked a judge and he shook his wig and said: ‘Facebook? Open Google and type ‘f’ and you’ll get facebook right away. Click on that and Google will tell you that it’s found 16 billion 850 million results in zero-point-two-one seconds, that’s around one-fifth of a second. Almost like the God particle they’ve been looking for at CERN, don’t you think? You got a complaint against God?’

‘No, I don’t,’ I said. ‘All I want to say is…’

‘Well, don’t,’ the hon’ble judge said, so I won’t. But I’m allowed to talk about connectivitis in a general, non-subpoenable form, it seems. You get a ‘wall’ of your own when you join Facebook – and things posted by your ‘friends’ keep appearing on it – and then again of the ‘friends’ you’ve been interacting with – strange algorithms determine what you get to see or do not get to see. Don’t interact for a few days and FB will tell you which eight or nine ‘friends’ of yours you’ve been missing – missing out on their posts i.e. – and you’ll end up feeling more lonely than ever. Nobody loves you, you’ll feel, and worse than that, you don’t love AB (that’s anybody). ‘I’m incapable of love & friendship, je suis perdu’ – you’ll think – ‘I am lost in the Outer Darkness where there is no chat & no chatter, no tweets & no Twitter, no Instagram & no chai gram’ – no, that would be the plaintive cry of an Indian tea vendor calling out ‘Hot tea!’ – actually ‘Tea hot!’ – when the train halts at some minor railway station, preferably in the early hours of the morning…

My ‘wall’ has something as soothing about it as the mud wall of my (hypothetical/metaphorical) hut in an Indian village on which friends & neighbours have ‘posted’ their ghuñtiya, their cowdung cakes to dry. The ‘posts’ come in all shapes and sizes and reveal the size of the ego behind them, from ‘Gabriela is very pretty’ to ‘I was born here’. What do I mean? I’ll tell you.

When we used to live in Oberdollendorf near Bonn, I used to wait for the tram at the Oberdollendorfer tram station – where else? – in the morning, together with the local kids going to some local school, boys and girls, ranging from eleven to whatever in age, at a guess. A happy, noisy, boisterous lot, they used to troop into one of the two cars as if they were a conquering army – except for this small and shy, bespectacled, knock-knee’d Harry Potter of a boy who used to stand in a corner and always get in the compartment other than the one ‘Gabriela’ had got into, Gabriela or Gabi being the tallest, the loudest and the prettiest 13-14-15 year old girl in the whole lot. And then one day I discovered this graffiti scribbled in very small letters on the glass wall of the waiting shed: ‘Gabriela is very pretty.’ Wonder if Gabi ever saw it and did she become friends with Harry Potter? On Facebook, maybe.

I prefer the other kind of ego, as displayed by some unknown adolescent in ‘Bonn South’. They had just repainted the huge, blank, windowless five or six-storeyed side of the St. Elisabeth hospital – on the Loestrasse side – and in yellow, if I remember correctly, when I discovered this graffiti scribbled with a marker on that veritable cliff of a wall: ‘I was born here’. Just that. No name. Again in very small letters. Grand. Why should the St. Elisabeth hospital in Bonn be famous, in case it already isn’t? Because I was born there.

Would love to see that boy’s posts on FB. How do I know it’s a boy? I don’t. Nothing was written on his Timeline.

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Eleanor Rigby: Fifty Years

Perhaps the greatest lyric, I mean song-text ever written. Go back and check it out and you’ll see what this young man from Liverpool who might have been my senior in school was capable of doing back in 1966 – not ebony and ivory but to suck the essence of modern poetry, what the hell, of modern film & literature, like a hummingbird from a wilting fuchsia and distil it into a scarifyingly simple lyric – won’t even talk abut the music – to the despair of all poets & songwriters.

Who starts a pop song with Ah, look at all the lonely people, eh? And then the images: Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church after the wedding and can be seen waiting at the window wearing a face she keeps in a jar by the door. I won’t go any further, though Father McKenzie joins the cast soon after in an almost Joycean opening to an unwritten, stillborn novel that will adumbrate forever.

And the joke is that Paul McCartney was 24 years old at the time. And the joke is that Michelangelo was 24 years old when he completed the Pietà. Which is neither here nor there, but I’m fascinated by Eleanor Rigby and the Madonna figure in La Pietà. Both are women, unhappy women in a church. Both have a connection with death and burial: one of them is even holding her dead son on her lap and looking more radiant and beautiful than any woman has ever done in stone.

Of course I’m overdoing things and I’m not even a Christian. I myself was a teenager in Kolkata when Revolver hit the stands. I don’t think I even noticed that a revolution was taking place, that a song had come into being which would affect and influence my attitude towards western pop music forever. But I noticed that Rigby’s personal ogre was somehow also mine – as that of every sensitive youngster anywhere in the world – a thing called loneliness. In the midst of a world full of people, all the lonely people.

How was Paul to know that another young man – just 20 years old at the time (his own time, not Paul’s or Michelangelo’s) – would be starting a miracle cure called the Facebook which would be the saving of all the Eleanor Rigbys of the world together with their daughters and granddaughters? We’re writing now the 12th year since the launching of “Thefacebook”, as the Germans say so formally and liturgically, whereas Mark Zuckerberg was worth around $46 billion as of December 2015, Wikipedia tells us. Which shows the number of lonely people in the world, Eleanor Rigby and self, a new Facebook user, included.

In short, both Eleanor Rigby and self are ‘connected’ now, so connected that we can’t possibly feel lonely any more. Don’t have to stand at the window and peep out from behind the curtain; just go into Facebook and watch people post selfies of themselves at the pyramids or in the shower.

And the face that Eleanor Rigby used to keep in a jar by the door?

It’s on Facebook now.