My friend’s nieces had to move to Bombay after having grown up in Bangalore. After making the move into a new school, they came back one last time to pack up the house and decided to have a little goodbye party.
The younger one aged ten, let’s call her M, is extremely popular - or as my friend said, “ she’s very amenable and well behaved, everyone loves her.” Hence many teachers and friends were at the farewell party. Many tears were shed on both sides along with promises to stay in touch and come back to visit and so on.
The next day, my friend asked her niece - you must be sad to leave, no? M clicked her tongue nonchalantly and said “No, my friends in Bombay have the same personalities!”
I cannot help but marvel at those who travel so light. They seem to form such strong connections, but only in the moment. They carry few traces of these connections though and move on easily to form instantly strong connections elsewhere. Precisely for this even tempered lightness, they become everybody’s favourite person - the sunbeam everyone wants to catch in their hand.
Such lightness is rather important in an era when being connected and disconnected occur simultaneously and we each struggle with feeling constantly dispensable. Spun out of tightly woven communities, we struggle to define who we are in relation to others. More and more people freelance or work on a project basis. They form intense connections on assignment, and move on with an equal intensity - whether to a pre-existing life, or a new project, it is hard to say.
Dealing with wandering attention is an actual crisis of contemporary life. Perhaps for this reason we become increasingly numerical in our approach - number of Facebook friends, number of Twitter followers (I am informed by a young colleague that you should roughly have three fourths more followers than the number of people you follow, otherwise you are un-cool. This alarming fact has rendered me paralysed on Twitter but that’s another column).
More and more people I know cannot have only one social plan per day - socialising all happens in carousel mode where an evening would typically involve coffee with one set, an event with another set and dinner with another set of friends. Perhaps they have all the requisite personalities one needs - and one has at least one of the requisite personalities they need. Certainly one facet of this personality is anxiety.
It is hard to tell if these surfaces of conviviality are a genuine change or they too mask the old cliché of being lonely in a crowd. We’ve never had the need for as many spas, retreats, Vipassana courses, guru-driven arts of living and meditative pursuits and accoutrements as we currently do. Centering oneself might feel very urgent when life is a conveyer belt.
That lightness, which M exhibits - of complete feeling in the moment, an ability to move on with equal solidity - is an adaptive quality of great value.
In truth, we are never the sole focus on any unwavering attention, nor capable of it completely. It’s just that in the past we never knew when people looked away from us. Today’s connectivity makes it painfully clear. Confronting these new shapes of friendship and love with a certain openness, rather than bitter nostalgia is the only way to find a way back to meaning. To understand that some loves disappear with distance, to recognize that some loves sustain through distraction and change, has always been the job of the human heart and
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.