why i quit facebook…and other short stories

a week ago today, i fought my way through the maze-like account settings on facebook, and clicked on the “deactivate account” button. this was not done by mistake, by any means, but was completely intentional – heck, i even had to go to a second page that asked me, in big bold letters, “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?”, as if i was commiting some sort of grave affront to humanity. for those of who haven’t been to this dark side of facebook, the page also asks you why you chose to undertake this vile action, and lists some helpful suggestions. i chose the least intimidating, which is “i’m doing this temporarily, but will be back later.”

a week before that fateful day, i announced to the great black void that is my friends list that i was going to quit the site in 7 days. i’m not quite sure anyone believed me, and quite a few (you know who you are) thought i was doing it to get some more attention. like, seriously. do i strike you as the kind of person who craves attention so much that i would have to quit facebook to get it?

anyway. the reason for the 7 day deadline was that i wanted to migrate the features i found useful to some other platform, and craft an explanation for why i was doing such a drastic thing. however, given my addiction to procrastination, i probably should have given myself a period of 2-3 months, since i managed to do none of that. and so, two weeks later, here’s the long explanation for why i did this.

the reason one should be shocked that i quit facebook, if you need a reason for that, is because i used to be their biggest advertiser, at least in mouth-to-mouth terms. i got almost everyone in my office to join, even people who had never tried or considered social networking. within a couple of months, everyone was safely ensconced in everyone else’s friend lists.

i also spread adoption of facebook gaming, thanks to the 20-20 cricket game, which quickly became a whirlwind of activity and the topic of intense discussions and debates during working hours. it got to the point where the office had to ban playing facebook games during office hours altogether, because it “was consuming excessive amounts of bandwidth”. yeah, seriously. as if the use of youtube to watch funny videos by others wasn’t. thankfully, by then i had gotten bored of the game already, and had moved on.

given my amazingly high conversion ratio of people (only 1 colleague refused to join, out of 20-odd others), it was quite surprising to lots of people that i actually did end up quitting. but of course, there’s an explanation. here it is:

i quit facebook because i’m not good at keeping in touch with people.

yes, you did read it right. no, i’m not completely crazy.

you see, the main advertising tag line i used to sell people on facebook in the first place was that it was a fantastic and easy way to keep in touch with people. at the click of a mouse, you could find out what even your most obscure friends were up to, and use the knowledge that you gained about their lives, from their short status message, to make yourself feel that you were still as intimately connected as you were in first grade.

but that’s the problem. for people like me who suck at keeping in touch, that momentary glimpse into someone else’s life, as it scrolls through my news-feed, was as far as i got in terms of keeping in touch with them. i found myself not even bothering to write a sentence on their wall, and although i used to use it to keep tabs on birthdays, i found myself not even wishing people anymore. to me, the whole keeping in touch process had transformed into a very simple process, where just reading people’s statuses was enough, whereas i made no moves to ever drop a line or say something to them in passing.

in reality, keeping in touch with people is much harder, and requires a lot of work, something which i’ve never put in. as a result, i wanted to remove the illusion of appearing to keep in touch with 300-odd people from my life, so that i would make an effort to keep in touch with those people that matter to me. now i have to send emails, and make phone calls, and meet people to know what’s happening in their lives, instead of just reading a one-line status message and thinking i know everything there is to know about them.

of course, i’ll miss the site, because i had no end of talented photographers on my friends list, and so i could see some amazing pictures on an almost daily basis. plus, i also had some of the funniest people on my friends list, so i had no shortage of good humor available. and mob wars is a really addictive game, although it just involves clicking a mouse repeatedly.

but i’m hoping that now, i’ll finally be much better at being a friend, instead of just another profile in your friends list.

dead or alive

most eid-ul-adhas, my father decides to leave the country early, so as to avoid the hassle involved in buying a cow, slaughtering it and then distributing the meat. of course, his travel plans never include me, and so i stay in the country while he visits exotic locations. due to the excitable nature of my neighbors regarding sacrificial cows, and the resultant overflow of blood in the sewers, i generally spend most of my time locked up at home, not even daring to go outside to face the stench and horrifying nature of the entire holiday.

at the same time, i’ve developed an ingenious method of dealing with people who want to send us meat. in general, the holiday coincides with the time my fridge decides to die an untimely death. the day before eid, i go out and buy several dozen plastic bags. once the meat starts pouring in from neighbours and other random well-wishers/ass-kissers, i simply take the meat out of the bag they send it in, stuff it in one of my own bags, and then send it back to the person. this way the people think they’ve sent us meat, and i’ve returned the favour. not too many people have figured this out yet.

this year, however, there was no such drastic escape act from the paternal unit. this year, my sister-in-law, resting comfortably in the u s of a, deemed that a cow should be slaughtered. at this, my father, who seems to be bewitched by my sister-in-law in a manner similar to the president of bangladesh and the immediate past prime minister, decided that he would forego his departure and do her bidding. and so off he went to the birat goru chagoler birat haat to purchase a cow for the purpose. (i, fortunately, had developed one of my new on-demand fevers, thus avoiding the ordeal of purchasing the cow.)

now, i am quite opposed to this entire sadistic practice of purchasing cows and slaughtering them the very next day. this opposition arose the last time we slaughtered a cow at this house, several years ago, when i watched the cow being slaughtered after spending quite some time bonding with it (i was quite young then, you see). right before the knife cut its head off, the cow looked straight at me with an age-old sadness in its eyes and mooed once, and i was thus quite horrified at the resultant massacre.

now, i’m no vegetarian. in fact, i love meat. however, when it comes to such occasions, i’m an arthur dent kind of meat-eater. if you don’t know who arthur dent is, shame on you. dent is the protagonist of the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. when he goes to eat at the restaurant at the end of the universe, the cow comes up to his table and asks him which part of him he would like for dinner. as a result, dent grows nauseous and foregoes dinner, but the cow eventually runs off to shoot himself in the head anyway for the other diners’ orders.

anyway, the conclusion is, i can eat meat as long as i don’t see the creature it came from living, breathing and crapping in front of me. and crapping is what this year’s fortunate cow did. he crapped a lot. and mooed all night, right outside my window.

given the serenade of our cow, coupled with those of the neighbors’, it’s quite a wonder i was able to wake up in time for the eid prayers. but, once the prayers were done, the slaughtering began post haste. an apartment building one door down from my house, in which 14 families live, decided to sacrifice a sum total of 12 cows and 20 goats. my next door neighbor had his usual stock of two cows and three goats. by the time we made the five minute walk back from the eidgah at 9 am, a sum total of 4 cows and 12 goats had already died painful deaths.

of course, the scent of blood and the dying gargles of the neighboring cows did not do any wonders to the temperament of our own beast. quite agitated, it strained at the ropes tying it, and mooed angrily several hundred times. but, given that the butcher would arrive soon, we waited patiently.

and waited. and waited some more.

the clock struck 10, then 11, then 12. it turns out that the butcher who had been hired for the task had asked for 1000 taka, but my father had, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the task could be done for 800. scandalized, the butcher, who actually is a bricklayer the rest of the year, rushed off to seek alternate employment. and so we sent out for another butcher.

the first pair that showed up asked for 1500 taka. the paternal unit quickly threw them out. the second bunch, who turned out to be painters, asked for 1600, which my father finally decided to pay, given that the cow was mooing incessantly by now in one of his ears, and i was yelling about his penny-pinching in the other.

so, finally, at 12 pm, the cow, who by now was thanking his lucky stars for surviving the ritual slaughter, finally had his throat cut. of course, i was off hiding somewhere in order to not watch the actual slaughter process.

three hours later, we had our meat:

wild things

many many years ago, back even before dhaka was dacca, this land was inhabited by many many different species of wild animals. or so my grandparents told me. i always suspected that they might be on some kind of drug or the other.

anyway, the place that is now this sprawling megacity used to be inhabited by all manner of god’s creatures, big and small. it was said that foxes were very common in this part of the country, as were small game, exotic birds and even the occasional random tiger.

sadly, this was the case eons ago, when trees were plentiful and concrete was rare. throughout my own lifetime, i’ve seen concrete overtake the trees rapidly, to the point where greenery in dhaka has to be part of a beautification campaign.

but enough ranting. nowadays, the little wildlife available consists mainly of crows that insist on sitting outside your windows at the break of dawn, cawing their bloody heads off. there also used to be a sizeable cohort of sparrows around my house, but it seems they have gone extinct, although a few still do exist in other places in the capital. finally, there are the staple stray dogs and cats that adopt me once in a while every few months. other than that, wildlife is pretty rare, but nowhere more so than at the dhaka zoo, where animals go to die horrible, horrible deaths frolic like the happy critters they are. (well, at least the hippos do. every other animal is too exhausted to really frolic).

anyway, now there’s this.

right, let’s get the obvious questions out of the way first.

  • yes, that’s an elephant.
  • yes, it’s completely and utterly real.
  • yes, it was only a few feet away from me.
  • no, i did not get out of the car and touch/pet/molest it.
  • no, it is not a projection of my own twisted psyche on to a photograph.
  • no, the picture isn’t photoshopped in any way.
  • yes, the elephant is walking on a major road in dhaka.
  • yes, it does seem like the elephant wants to headbutt that “school van” with the horrible blue paint.
  • no, the ears haven’t been chopped off, it’s just fluttering (if that’s what elephant ears do).
  • yes, dhaka streets are extremely dirty.

and before you ask why there’s an elephant walking down a dirty dhaka street and headbutting horrible shades of blue, i have no idea. but yes, it seems to be there for a purpose, but what the purpose is we can only guess.

thank god i have a fertile overly active imagination.

when i was first alerted to the fact that there was an elephant in my near vicinity, i was sitting in one of the regular traffic jams that constitute my daily commute. having nothing better to do, i was engaged in bangladesh’s ultimate pastime – looking at other people. actually, i was quite focused on this one particular interesting person (read: female) who was standing on the side of the road, waiting for a break in the traffic so that she could cross. and just when i was having many happy thoughts about the fact that bangladesh is not ruled by the taliban, so that this particular piece of heaven was not covered from head to toe in an anonymous black burkha, this young lady completed a move i haven’t seen outside of the olympics: she jumped up in the air and ran at the same time. (i’ve been trying that one all evening, but can’t exactly figure out how it works yet.)

she didn’t run far, though – only into a shop nearby, from which she started giving furtive anxious glances out the glass window. naturally, i was quite peeved at the fact that my enjoyable activity had been horribly ruined by some factor that had had the same effect on the woman that britney spears or the backstreet boys has on me. and so i searched for it. but i didn’t have to look far. in approximately 12 seconds, i was staring straight at a huge, dark grey ass. and so i pulled out my phone as fast as i could, and snapped this particular picture as the car pulled away.

now that you know all there is to know about me and my quirks, let’s talk about the elephant.

first and foremost, i’m sure you’re wondering what precisely an elephant is doing in dhaka city. for all intents and purposes, as far as i could tell, it was the newest addition to the dhaka city corporation’s elite street cleaning unit, which is mostly composed of chain-smoking people who are sometimes visible in the early mornings, poking futilely at litter that lies on the sides of the streets. the elephant, frankly, seemed to be interested mostly in all the trash on the streets, sucking up with its trunk any piece of litter it could find. so much so that i for a minute thought that the city corporation had finally been able to afford a decent, albeit living, vacuum cleaner.

second, you may wonder if the elephant is truly wild, because it seems quite tame in the picture, as evinced by the gentleman perched on its back beating it with a strong bamboo stick. frankly, i think it’s heartwarming to see a use for bamboo sticks other than for attacking cars and beating the living crap out of opposition politicians. you see, for the longest time i’ve believed that bangladesh doesn’t have a hockey team because we’ve forgotten that hockey sticks have uses other than breaking people’s bones.

then, you might wonder, how is it that an elephant is able to walk on a street in dhaka without getting hit by the elephants that are already on the streets the many buses that ply the roads? [side note: as you can see, i’ve discovered the strikethrough tag, and will henceforth use it ruthlessly. i truly believe they make my posts funnier. if you don’t agree, too bad.] a more important question in my mind, actually, is whether elephants are subject to the same traffic rules as everyone else. rather, what traffic rights do elephants have in dhaka city? clearly they have the most important one – right of way. not only pedestrians, but even rickshaws were getting out of the way for the creature, which i think is a milestone in that both these groups of creatures think that nothing short of an act of god can stop them acting like idiots and for once actually obeying traffic laws. but it was refreshing to see that, in a country where everyone believes they have a god-given right to drive like maniacs, there are still things that scare them enough to make them actually follow traffic rules. perhaps this is the solution to bangladesh’s traffic problems: import a bunch of elephants to randomly walk up and down streets. i guarantee that in two weeks everyone will be following all traffic laws, even those that haven’t been invented yet.

alas, all good things must come to an end. although i parked the car a little ways down the road and waited for the elephant to come by so that i could take a more intimate and up-close portrait, the elephant did not make an appearance. it turns out the gentleman on its back had ridden it down to his favorite tea stall (which is where all those gawking people in the picture are standing) for a cup of tea and a chat, and had then gone back home with the elephant. which, besides the vacuum cleaner activity detailed above, is possibly the strangest use that i could imagine for a huge, heavy mammal.

i’m sure you never thought that this post would actually turn in to a rant, particularly when you saw the endearing picture of the elephant. but all in all, it was quite pleasant to see this today – after all, it helped to turn what promised to be an otherwise routine day into a completely surreal experience. furthermore, it’s good to see that, in an age when it seems that nothing can surprise us anymore and that we’ve seen it all, there are still things that make people sit up and take notice. i don’t know how many people saw the elephant today, but i hope it gave everyone who saw it a welcome and pleasant change from the monotony of the countless routine that constitutes our lives.

although it probably won’t be very pleasant for the street cleaners when they encounter the mountains of elephant dung tomorrow morning.