Hang

Zooming along

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on July 09, 2020 Published on July 09, 2020

“Can’t chat today,” I say to Bins, “too nervous.” “Really?” he sounds surprised. “You’re never nervous.” “Well, I am today,” I say. Because I’m participating in a Zoom session. “You’ve done that before,” says Bins. “What’s new today?”

It’s easy to explain. In previous sessions, it’s been friends chatting with me about my work. This time, “I’m on a panel, talking with three other AUTHORS! And a moderator! I don’t know any of them and we’ve got 90 minutes to fill!” “Foof!” snorts Bins. “As usual, you’re wasting your worry-budget.” Bins has a theory that I waste good energy on bad worrying. “You can talk for 90 minutes in your sleep — and frequently do!” He laughs so hard at his own joke that he can’t talk for several minutes.

The session is due to begin in three hours. “The subject is the ‘Role of Utopia and Dystopia’,” I say. The panel is part of the four-day Belongg Online Literature Festival, “celebrating diversity and inclusion,” I say, quoting from their information site. “There are dozens of authors and artists involved, from India and abroad.” My panel consists of the Malayalam author A Sethumadhavan, artist and graphic novelist Bishakh Som and author-editor Sukanya Venkatraghavan. The moderator is Jonathan Kennedy, director arts of the British Council.

“I still don’t understand why you’re fretting,” says Bins. “Because I don’t like talking to strangers,” I say. “I’ll be on-screen and everyone will see that I haven’t had a haircut in four months. My tiny home in Elsewhere will be visible in the background and it’ll be clear that I’ve not dusted it for four months either!”

Bins is snorting with laughter. “It’s not funny!” I snarl. “I’m quite happy to live like a hermit, with mushrooms growing out of the walls, so long as no one gets to see the results! This kind of Zoom conference is an assault on privacy!” Bins has to catch his breath before he can form coherent sentences. When he can talk again he wants to know why I agreed if I find it so unpleasant.

“Because my publisher says that this is what authors HAVE to do these days. We’ve got to promote our books in whatever way we can and — WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING, SILLY MAN?” Bins says, guffawing all the while, “In the first place, publishers must be really desperate to use hermit crab authors like you to promote their books! Secondly, no one will be watching! Thirdly, you have three hours to dust your room before the conference!!”

The idea that no one will actually watch my session calms me right down. Of course, I don’t bother to dust my room; and when the conference begins, sure enough, everyone else’s home is IKEA-level elegant. But the discussion is interesting and the 90 minutes twinkle by in a flash.

When it’s over I call Bins. “It was fine,” I say. “Of course,” says Bins, cackling like a hyena. “I’m always right!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on July 09, 2020
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