Paromita Vohra: Zoning out in time

Published: 19 November, 2017 06:48 IST | Paromita Vohra | Mumbai

I'm going off the grid" people write on social media sometimes, to say they won't be in a mobile network zone for some time, or not on social media perhaps

I'm going off the grid" people write on social media sometimes, to say they won't be in a mobile network zone for some time, or not on social media perhaps. The grid, which knots and crosses time and place. "Come back soon, Paromita!" says my friend when we are talking online from two different countries, neither of them India. "You are too far away!" Place shouldn't, often doesn't, matter when you are mostly connecting with people online. Emotions which link us, become a place to live in online. But time is more slippery.

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

In a different time zone from your usual one you become like one of those astronauts floating sound-free around a spaceship, tethered to a place, a life, yet drifting from it. As time reverses, reality turns around, too. You are awake when others are asleep, and asleep when they are at work. Moments of overlap - sometimes an hour or two - can feel like coffee and cake at an inter-galactic cafe, or a moment in those song picturisations where people walk out of one frame and into another, shifting backdrops. To go from one place to another is marked by excitement and anticipation. To leave a place is marked by anxiety and fear of loss. To an extent we fear losing ourselves as much as others. We cross time zones borne aloft on these contrary emotions.

Once, going to another place, meant to go into another world of information and lose knowledge of the one left behind. Then people inhabited the other place through nostalgia. We said they lived in the past. Because distance is real and time is linear, we could not simultaneously inhabit two times at once, could we? We could live physically in our experiential present and emotionally or mentally in our once experienced past - carrying the memory of a place inside that you could settle into. Both the time and the place were elsewhere.

Now, when social media and the Internet render places almost parallel, it suddenly seems as if we can occupy two presents at once. Some people are proficient at existing in two time zones. Social media and the Internet are the spaceship they never leave. They are able to keep comprehensively up-to-date with minor goings-on and ongoing debates in two places at the same time. Maybe we hold on to places, inhabiting two times at once because we fear drifting entirely away from world we've belonged or almost belonged to. We hurtle around like little time capsules ourselves, stopping nowhere, like the hands of the clock, fearing we will miss out on something.

But time's linearity is suggestive. It suggests we can let go of another time, another place, another self for a while; allow ourselves to drift in space not constantly articulating and asserting our identity. After all the other half of the world has let go, has left us behind by some hours. Zoning out of one time and into another is to let go of the fear of missing out, to, in fact, accept we will miss some bits of life and worlds and people, maybe even let go of little bits of ourselves which, in a new place and time, we see are unnecessary, vestigial. All the better to meet them afresh when the world turns full circle.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

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