Death by WhatsApp forwards

| Updated on June 12, 2020 Published on June 12, 2020

A WhatsApp user is plagued by the cant and fear doled out at the virtual family living room

Dear Editor,

There is only one thing that I dread more than waking up to find out that I have caught the novel coronavirus. And that is getting up in the morning to a daily deluge of panic-filled and hate-topped WhatsApp messages.

You see, dear Editor, one of the oldest diseases, coded into our Indian genetic make-up, is the tendency to volunteer advice. This is what defines us as Indians. From what to eat to how to run the country, we are always dispensing our wisdom to willing — or patently unwilling — listeners, as if it were the mandatory hand sanitiser. The gene has been working overtime ever since WhatsApp came into our lives. People are doling out advice, often in all caps, suitably laced with emojis. The elders in family WhatsApp groups now wield power and hierarchy, posting “breaking news” and lists of dos and don’ts, all before brahma muhurtam or the crack of dawn. In WhatsApp ooru, where speed matters, who needs factual accuracy?

Take that 5am forward I received on how Vamana Dwadashi is the day when lamps have to be lit to destroy disease-causing viruses. Or the breakfast-time forwards on how China’s doctors have found a cure for Covid-19 in regular coffee and boiled garlic water. Then there are through-the-day posts on “corona jihad” and how “Muslims are weaponising the virus to target Hindus”. One post urges us to send “positive vibes” to our pradhan sevak, a 69-year-old man unflinchingly and selflessly bearing the weight of 130 crore people’s expectations. A forward tells us that the Indian Council of Medical Research has advised people against wearing belts, rings and watches, and against “unnecessary travel” and “unnecessary marriage”. The forwards will also have you believe that the top medical council says, East or West, vegetarian is the best.

Then, of course, there are non-Covid-19 messages about massive earthquakes just around the corner, Pakistani locusts brutally trained by the enemy State to eat all our crops, and how sanitising your car keys and immediately starting your car can send you and your car up in flames.

If you are so troubled by WhatsApp, why don’t you just exit the group, you may suggest. Dear Editor, when it comes to family, we must unquestioningly obey our elders, even if only through the emoji of folded hands.

Recently, I tried to counter a forward sent to me by an elderly relative which said all journalists were vultures waiting to feast on bad news. The context was Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s statement about the migrant crisis, comparing journalists to a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer whose lens captured a vulture hovering around a famine-hit child. I, for once, quickly typed away a response, standing up in solidarity with the media. I even did some research, posting a TIME magazine article link that busted many myths about the picture. Emboldened by my new-found courage, I also countered an earlier post by sending a link that made clear that Muslims hadn’t gone around scattering virus-infected currency notes.

For two days, dear Editor, there was deathly silence in the group. My calls to some family members went unanswered. I thought they were probably all queueing up, armed with masks and gloves, outside temples, ready to break coconuts to celebrate the opening up of the hallowed portals. Then my parents rang me up one brahma muhurtam, to say that my relatives had called them to complain about my unfortunate upbringing, accusing them of having raised an anti-national and anti-Hindu individual who was disrupting the harmony and like-mindedness of the holy WhatsApp group. Leave the group, my parents insisted.

But should I be the thorn that stays, upsetting their misinformed belief system, battling one fake forward at a time? Or should I let bygones be bygones and quietly exit? I could do with some advice.

Yours in distress,

A WhatsApp amputee

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Published on June 12, 2020
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