“I am coming to the next meeting of Neterati in New Bombay, I will send short messaging texts, for directions,” she had written to me.
I was going to meet Savita Fernandes for the first time. We had met online at a literary community that exchanged messages and networked in the disembodied medium of the Internet. Neterati had grown from a few members to around seven hundred proving that there were writers around India looking to network and wanting support in their quest to be known writers one day.
So writers and would-be writers trooped in to Neterati and poured out their anguish and angst, and their feeling of inadequacy in a world that was increasingly being unkind to writers what with many of their works remaining unpublished. She looked quite pert and pretty in a photograph posted on her profile page and I could imagine an interesting if not intellectual conversation with a kindred literary soul. She liked reading Tolkien and wrote prose, short stories, and poetry.
The success of Neterati proved how aggrieved and alienated writers were in India, pushed into a corner for want of a media that would accept their oeuvres and the need for a forum where writers could express their feeling when writerly dreams went sour. The brainchild of a writer and strategist who called himself 'The Ghost in the Woodworks', this community had decided to marry online disembodiment with person-to-person contact where writers could read their works.
Every meeting of Neterati that met once every month was eagerly looked forward to and avid scribes would listen intently to writers and offer criticism and encouragement.
Savita is a biologist doing research in a government-funded laboratory in Pune and I am a technical writer based in Bombay. I call myself a, 'corporate whore' for I sell my talents to the highest bidder in the burgeoning market for writers in the sweatshops that outsource business from the US. I write content for web sites mostly in the United States and barely would I finish one when the next request would be clamouring to be done.
The next meeting of Neterati was to take place at the residence of poet Manisha Gidwani, poet of repute, a Neterati member who lived in CBD Belapur. Savita had come into Bombay from Pune earlier in the day and was traveling to CBD Belapur where we were to meet and then proceed to the meeting.
I could feel my pulse racing and heart thumping when I boarded a bus to CBD Belapur. Neterati conducted what it called exercises every week. As I sat down in the bus for a long drive my mind skimmed over some of the recent exercises in which Savita and I had participated. An exercise, devised by the imposing talent of the moderator of the board, the one called The Griff, consisted of members writing short blank verses called clerihews about each other and posting it online. I had written about Savita:
Savita Fernandes researcher of plant biology,
She spends quality time on word morphology,
Her writing has a truly distinctive voice,
But she says she is a biologist not a writer by choice!
To which she had replied:
Srinivas Iyer writer of web site content,
Teasing acolyte writers isn't his honest intent,
Front Page and Dreamweaver are his tools,
But his writing is only meant for fools!
So we had exchanged articles, short poems, limericks, clerihews and our friendship had grown.
When a brief lull had occurred in our exchange of smart verses she had sent a personal message, “Why no pomes, jokes, stories for several days?”
To which I had written back a clerihew:
What are Pomes dear Savita?
Are they the teachings of the Gita?
Are these pomes coming from deep within your heart?
With the potential of a million heartaches to start?
When she reached the outskirts of New Bombay she began messaging me for directions. In the morning she had visited her place of birth in Vile Parle where she still had an uncle living in a rundown bungalow in a Catholic locality beside a Catholic Church and school. She could never forget her childhood there and made frequent visits, more to seek continuity with the past, than the love of her uncle and aunt.
Her parents had sold their house in the same locality and moved to Pune, which was then a retirement paradise where accommodation was available cheap.
As she crossed the Thane Creek Bridge she sent a short message on her cell phone. Then the messages just flew between our two cell phones, in a torrent of radio signals through virtual space. We had decided earlier that we would only message full words and wouldn't use the truncated short messaging language that would use the short 'whr r u' for 'where are you'.
“I am nearing Vashi. Where do I get down?” She messaged.
“There is a lot of time. Enjoy the scenery. What do you see?” I messaged back.
“I see a lot of mangroves, feel the cool wind, the sea shimmering.”
“Reminds me of the romantic poets.”
“Wide sea that one continuous murmur breeds along the pebbled shore of memory!”
“You have a good memory.”
“For pomes, yes.”
Then the messages stopped. She fell silent.
“Where am I?”
“What do you see?”
“A flyover and a lot of chimneys spewing black smoke.”
“You are nearing CBD Belapur. What do you see inside the bus?”
“Why? A pot-bellied conductor, with a dour expression and the look as if he is anal retentive.”
“Hahahaha! You are funny. What else?”
“There is this balding man sitting in front of me, his hair is fifty per cent gone.”
There was a balding man sitting in front of me too.
“Oh! Do be careful.”
“Balding men can be dangerous.”
“Yes. Hormone imbalance causes premature balding, what is he wearing?”
“A tee-shirt, frayed collars, I can see his stubbly cheeks.”
“What is he doing?”
“He is reading a novel. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings', and he is messaging somebody.”
“How do I know? He is looking very intently at his cell phone.”
“How do you rate him on a scale of one to ten?”
“He would be four, I guess.”
“Oh! I thought you would be kinder to him.”
“Why? You haven't seen him, so, how can you say I should be kinder to him?”
“Because he is reading Tolkien, you like Tolkien don't you?”
“Yes, that doesn't mean I should rate him any higher than I did. He is not my type. Besides, he is older.”
“Why, 'I see!'”
“Nothing. Where are you now?”
“There is a nasty, penetrating smell,” she messaged looking out of the window at a tall building with a huge vat-like structure on top.
“That's the beer company Bombay Pilsner. What are you wearing?”
“Guess. We had the exercise on colors. What color did I write about?”
“Pink. You wrote about your 'Pink Obsession'. You are wearing a pink top and denim jeans.”
“You are wearing one of those earrings that dangle like a chain.”
“You have a Ray-ban Predator model, perched on your hair.”
“How do you know all this? We never met!”
“Just guess work.”
“Because you like pink you will wear pink on a weekend. Because you are on a short journey, you will wear jeans. The earrings were just a guess. The glasses, naturally, you will wear glasses in this heat.”
“What else Sherlock Holmes?”
“You are carrying a blue duffel bag.”
“Wait a minute, you are not the man sitting in front of me. Oh!” she sounded disappointed.
“Who? The balding man with dandruff in his hair?”
“How do you know he has dandruff? I didn't mention it.”
“Look at the seat across the aisle.”
She turned her head, her eyes met mine, and a brilliant smile lit her face.
“It's you, you liar,” she messaged for the last time.
We both laughed at the same time and gestured at each other.
The balding man in the front row looked back, shrugged, shook his head, and went back to his book and short messaging texts.
“Crazy adrenaline-pumping youngsters,” he punched into his cell phone to whoever was receiving his messages.
I got up, crossed the aisle, and sat down beside Savita Fernandes. We had a lot of catching up to do.