Back in the early 2000s, as hundreds of millions of millennials were taking their first steps into puberty, most didn’t realize a lanky amd somewhat anti-social nerd in a Harvard dorm would have such a lasting impression on their love lives.
Facebook was a revelation — a “disruptive” network that shrunk our worlds. It was stalker haven, voyeur central, the OG (original) “slide into their DMs” (direct messages) stretch in this digital dystopia.
The most reckless were on Facebook groups, where you were hauled into a virtual “community” with a bunch of strangers, just because you supposedly liked knitting, breathing, or Murakami’s books.
It didn’t matter who these people were, as long as they had a mobile number and/or an email address to spare. In one of these seedy online bylanes, on the information super-highway, my friend found “true love”.
Growing up, “other countries” were like the appendix — we didn’t care much about them unless they gave us trouble in the form of ODI (one day international) losses, GK (general knowledge) tests & NRI (non-resident Indian) cousins.
Facebook opened our eyes and minds to pen-pals & pen-gals who lived on the other side of the barbed wires. This meant long-distance relationships went straight from Delhi-Dhanbad, Kolkata-Kinnaur, Mumbai-Manesar to Kolkata-Karachi, Delhi-Dhaka & Mumbai-Miami!
A cross-border romance is never an easy one, especially when nuclear nations, and not nagging mothers are at loggerheads. Not to mention the deep scars of the partition, Kargil, Pulwama, Kashmir, and the perpetual threat of nuclear war.
After all, the archetype of the doomed Indo-Pak romance is such a cliche, Bollywood went as far ahead as to make a movie on it.
As a bystander, I seemed to have sleepwalked into fiction . Every twist in this wild and wacky love story was outlandish, every possibility irrational.
At a time when most broke millenials settled for cheap cappuccinos, my friend’s first date cost an eye-watering $2000 including round trip fare, to Dubai and back.
Everything from the courtship to the clashes were courtesy WhatsApp. Every valentine’s day hamper was courtesy FedEx and every future plan was dependent on India’s foreign policy!
Imagine sexting with two timelines in mind, planning dates not hours, but months in advance, and the “thrill of the chase” requiring a visa, quite literally.
Marriage meant you needed an Indian visa, one that is harder to come by than a mule at Times Square. You could always implore the honourable External Affairs Minister on Twitter.
If you managed a visa by accident, imagine citing “diplomatic sanctions” as a reason for the baarat (wedding procession) to return. The only wedding planner you needed on this one was an immigration lawyer, and I had many on speed dial.
My friend’s surreal love story makes for excellent tête-à-tête at parties. Unfortunately, the climax lacks lustre. True to my storytelling roots, I never let the truth come in the way of a great story.
Luckily, despite visa issues and diplomatic standoffs, thousands of couples from India & Pakistan continue to fight the odds to get married. Facebook, they would all agree, is truly “full of possibilities”.