Accidents, clashes and surprises do happen in life and Facebook being a mirror of life how could it be free of them ? As I have been a diehard fan and prolific user of FB I have had also my share of them in it. Today I am going to share one such experience of mine that I encountered in FB. But first a confession I have to make. I am a bit ashamed of a particular weakness of mine which I have to make a clean breast of before you all friends now, I hope everyone that reads this story is a friend, and what better way to honor friends than to confess one’s weaknesses, with warts, spots et al. In one of my earlier essays I had mentioned that I invited friends to my account in Facebook , on two bases only. To recapitulate them, in short, firstly on the basis of an interesting or humorous comment and secondly on the suggestion of FB itself. But actually there was a third basis also which I chose to hide from you as it threatened to expose one of my deep seated weaknesses. But today I am going to make a clean breast of it all. The truth is I am partial to beautiful women, howsoever I proclaim from the rooftop that I am a pure nondualist, a modern descendant of Shankara to whom woman’s beauty was nothing but an illusion or maya. From my early youth, one of Shankara’s famous shlokas was dinned into my ears by many elders at different times, “Oh you ignorant ones, you are attracted to woman’s beauty, especially her breasts; but what are breasts except rounded formation of human flesh and thus subject to all corruptions the flesh is heir to. Leave aside your such worthless obsessions after perishable things and remember the holy name of the Lord, Govinda, only He will deliver you from your miserable state.” In spite of all attempts of elders and all the assistance of Shankara employed in their cause to detoxify me of the toxic venom of woman’s beauty, injected into my system by my constant thinking about them, I remained unredeemed from my fallen state. I still remain a worshipper of woman’s beauty. Only thing the elders and Shankara did to me was that I began to associate the enjoyment of woman’s beauty with a sense of forbidden pleasure, a guilt which was previously not there in me. Today when I look at a beautiful woman I look at her on the sly, like a thief, always fearful lest she confronts me why I looked at her the way I did or as if some elders would appear from nowhere and catch me red-handed looking at her and start reprimanding me for my moral laxity. It is another matter that all those elders are long since dead, but how to get rid of their voices in my head which I carry day and night? So I confess here that I also invited friendship of some women on the sole consideration of their beauty. The story I am going to narrate is related to one such woman whose beauty or to say more accurately the beauty of a photo she had uploaded on to her page, had been the sole criterion for invitation of her friendship. But I didn’t know that she would prove too hot to handle for me.

Her name was Lisa. I found her comments on a man’s post in FB whom I had befriended just the day before on the basis of one of his comments. His post was based on some local American political issues and political persons, having no international significance. I was amused at the discussion but found very little of interest to me. The friend and Lisa seemed to be very well known to each other and her comments were lighthearted and good humored. Just for curiosity sake I opened her page and found just one photo of a girl around 25 uploaded besides those photos of dogs, cats and flowers. The girl’s photo was a long shot, she was wearing jean half pants and a T-shirt. She struck me as beautiful. So I immediately invited her friendship. She was on line and probably finding a common friend between us accepted my invitation readily. I posted a thank you message on her wall ending with “peace and love to you,” my common message of greeting and thanksgiving to one and all. Little did I realize that this, my universally well-accepted and innocent greeting message, would be made an exception of and an issue would be made out of it.
As soon as she had read my message she wrote back,” Thank you for your invitation and for your wish for peace on me but I cannot accept your love because in my culture love is not accepted from a stranger.”
I was flabbergasted and couldn’t believe that I was in conversation with an American girl. I was intrigued at her response. For a moment I thought she was joking. In order to be more clear of her intent, I wrote back again on her wall,” Dear Lisa, I have almost 1000 friends from almost all the countries of the world and this message of thanksgiving that I posted on your wall has been a standard message to all that have accepted my invitations . So far none had taken any exception to the word ‘love’ in it. I think love is a lovely word too. Why are you objecting it? Are you serious or joking?”
She sharply shot back, “ I have already told you that love is a very personal matter and one only accepts it from someone very dear and near to oneself. In my culture it is never expressed to a stranger nor accepted from a stranger. And by the way, I don’t joke with strangers either.”
Now I was even more intrigued ,astonished and a bit shocked too. Out of my 1000 friends at the time, now their numbers have exceeded two thousand, more than half were Americans and more than half of them were ladies. None had objected to the use of the word. Were they not Americans? Didn’t they have a culture too? What culture she was speaking of? Was she the sole custodian of a vanished culture? Truly I was boiling inside. She got me completely riled. I thought what sort of a friendship this was going to be with such a bumpy ride from the start? I was in no mood to yield or quit, her being a beautiful woman no longer mattered to me. I thought if I gave her a befitting reply, what was the worst that could happen? At the most she could unfriend me then and there. Let me take the risk but I would take the matter to its logical conclusion. So I wrote back,” Dear Lisa, the word “love” which is very often used as a synonym of “God” or “Truth” and so memorably immortalized by Jesus Christ by his” Love thy neighbor as thyself’’, and here it is so unfortunate to find that you have been invoking your culture to find fault with my usage of the word addressed to you! Besides it was a formal usage, you know as well as I know that no other meaning of any sort was intended. Really there was no issue involved in it, so please don’t make an issue out of it. Accept it gracefully and let bygones be bygones.”
She proved herself to be of a different mettle. She stuck to her point that her culture forbade her to accept love, even a wish for it, from a stranger which I was and nothing more. I then made a rejoinder to it and even took an exception to her use of the word ‘stranger’ thrice in the course of that short duration. I wrote,”Whom are you calling a stranger? The one who thanked you and wished peace and love on you? Please remember your best friend of today was also one day a stranger to you.” Then she too replied. Then I replied. It went on and on till our dialogues filled a long page. None of us was yielding. One of my American women friends, I don’t know how she got wind of the verbal duel that was going on between the two of us, appeared and remarked in a tongue under cheek manner, “Paresh, I see a lot of heat being generated here over “love”. Are you both out on a global warming mission? LOL.” I replied, “Read the thread through and find for yourself.” Then she disappeared. Lisa suddenly suggested that if she was not behaving as per my expectations then I unfriend her. I was expecting her to unfriend me, but lo ! here she was telling me to unfriend her. That made me softened. She sort of won me over by this surprising gesture. Moreover, I was noticing, throughout the time our ping pong of messages ran to and fro, that she never hit me below the belt, there were absolutely no personal incriminations or innuendoes. It can be said as if a full- fledged debate took place in the pages of FB where neither opponent yielded to the other but also neither deviated from the rule book, neither failed to show respect to the other. That impressed me much. Secondly the quality I loved most in any man or woman, I found that abundantly in her, it was her energy.
I wrote back,”Dear Lisa. I am here to make friendship with you and with all. I have never unfriended anyone for difference of opinion. So unfriending you is out of the question. We have had clearly a difference of opinion. You are entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. Let’s not harp on that again. We will find many common grounds, common interests to build our friendship on. I wish you the best.”
She too wished me well. Then we said good night and good day to each other as we were under different time zones. Well that was an accident and clash too. Didn’t I tell you that I was going to give an instance of them in FB pages ? But I would give an example or two of surprises too, with the same girl again.
After that incident of initial hiccup and bumpy ride I checked into her info page, for the first time. She seemed to be a humorous, fun loving girl. Some of her entries in her info page would give you an idea why I thought so. In the column for employers, she wrote, ‘ Law enforcement’. In the column for post she held, she wrote,” If I told you, I will have to kill you”. In the quotations column she quoted some outrageously funny and witty quotes from famous American humorists. I loved all of them.

Favorite Quotations “We’re only given a small spark of madness; we mustn’t extinquish it.” – Robin Williams

“What fresh hell is this?!?” – Dorothy Parker

“I’m working on becoming someone that I will never quite be.” – Josie Natori

“I don’t care what is written [or said] about me as long as it isn’t true.” – Dorothy Parker

“There she goes into a sea of mediocrity where her talents are foams evaporating into the thin air of shine.” – John Tiong Chunghoo

“Take me or leave me, or, as is the usual order of things, both.” – Dorothy Parker

“Forgive your enemies but never forget their names.” – John F. Kennedy

Then after some initial interest in her posts and after some ‘likes’ on some of them my interest in her plummeted sharply . The main reason was her interests. Her interests were in American local affairs and events and western songs and music. On both these topics my knowledge was nearly zero. But she had a coterie of friends, both male and female, with whom she discussed and shared her interests almost regularly. It seemed she was a master in her areas of interest. Reading her posts, comments and discussions that ensued among her friends, who obviously knew each other well, I had a feeling, a sort of déjà vu, as if I was reading provincial British women novelists like Margaret Drabble, Elizabeth Howard Zennings , Rose Macaulay etc after having had a long stint with continental novelists like Camus, Sartre, Kafka or Mann. It was a bit too much provincial and claustrophobic for my taste. It seemed she was well liked. She loved pets and used one of her pets as her profile picture. She never used her own picture on her profile. Well, gradually with mismatch of interests, I almost stopped frequenting her page after the initial month or two and I nearly forgot her, for nearly a period of six months. But fate had other things in store for us. Even though we had nearly written each other off, fate didn’t, as it turned out later. Didn’t I promise you a few surprises? They were going to be unfolded.

One day I invited one of Lisa’s friends, Dina, to be my friend, for the same reason for which I had sought Lisa’s friendship, namely her beauty. She accepted. One day, some days afterwards, for no particular reason, I wanted to open her page and read whatever she posted on her wall. She had a strange post on her wall that day. It was strange because I couldn’t make any meaning out of one word. Her post was a short one, “I was deknotted yesterday. It felt good.” My problem was and still is that I don’t know what “deknotted’ meant. And that acted like a teaser, a riddle or a conundrum for me. However I tried I couldn’t understand its meaning. I googled it to find what it meant but that was also of no avail. Strangely, four or five of her friends seemed not only understand the word but also each shared,in the thread, that she had also been deknotted once,some said more than once. They were all women. But here I was getting infuriated out of the frustration of not being able to make any sense out of the word. I began to see a conspiracy in their posts. I thought probably the word was a code word, it stood for something else. It was designed to keep all others out. It probably stood for a sexual word, may be the sexual act itself. I decided to let them know that I knew what actually they were talking of. A sort of hey guys, I have broken your code and here it is what you really meant, ha ha ha. In this state of mind, I wrote something on her wall, under that particular thread, for which I have felt ashamed since that day. But I didn’t know the repurcations it was to cause very shortly later on. But first, let me write what I had written there. I wrote,”I was deflowered yesterday. It felt good.” Then I exited from her page.

I continued reading some posts of other friends from the feed for about an hour when all the while at the back of my mind a thought was constantly going on that what I wrote on Dina’s page was not correct, decent and proper. I resisted for an hour an irrepressible urge to go back and delete the comment. The urge was seriously affecting my concentration in reading posts. So I reverted back to her page and deleted my comment, the first and last such comment I made and the first and last comment I deleted. Then I felt at peace and continued reading some other posts. Sometime afterwards I logged off.
As I logged on to FB some four or five hours later I was instantly greeted with a message from Lisa, she was as if livid with rage. “ I have unfriended you, Paresh. You had posted a very indecent and inappropriate comment on Dina’s wall which she has removed out of disgust.” I couldn’t see her but I could imagine her spitting fire on me. Remember it, we hadn’t communicated for the last six months or more. I remember I had sent two or three of my stories to her, but finding her unresponsive I had stopped sending anything else to her. I verified and found that she had actually unfriended me. So only messaging through inbox was open to us. I replied through that a message, after carefully drafting it, for which I have been happy and proud since. My joy was due to the fact that I didn’t mismanage or botch the issue and I successfully came out keeping my friendship with Lisa intact. I consider it as one of my greatest triumphs in life. But let me first write what I wrote in reply.
I replied,” Dear Lisa, let me first thank you for giving me this opportunity to explain things or putting my point of view of the matter before you. Many friends have unfriended me before. But none had given me a hearing as you have so magnanimously done. You could simply have unfriended me without giving me the reason. Really, I had made an indecent comment on Dina’s wall. For that I am really very sorry. That was due to my inability to understand a word in her post. But at about an hour later I removed the post myself. You can ask Dina if am speaking the truth or not. Probably she remained blissfully unaware of whatever happened on her wall during the last few hours. I am surprised how you came to know of it so soon. Probably you were notified through your mobile phone as you had ‘liked’ her post. I am really sorry for what happened. I assure you that was my first and last such indiscretion. I am sending an invitation of friendship to you. I hope after verification with Dina you will accept it. I have always held you in high esteem and after this incident it has even grown higher. I can’t write “I love you” knowing your reservations against the word and its usage but that describes, more accurately than any other word, my present state of emotions regarding you. Yours ever, Paresh.”

Was that not a surprise I had promised you, whatever happened that day ? But even more surprises were to come afterwards. Please hold on to your seat on this rollercoaster of a relationship. Yes, from this end it was nothing short of a relationship, of course the Platonic kind. Really, as I was drafting that letter I was experiencing a whole gamut of emotions which I can only call as love. I was struck by the honesty,energy,outspokenness, her old world conservativeness in feelings and expressions and finally her pitching in and taking cudgel for a friend when she thought someone was out to make a pass on her indecently, all this and some more aroused a feeling of love for Lisa.

The next day, the day after I had sent her the above message, I was notified that Lisa had accepted my friendship. She welcomed me back but with a rider that I was to maintain decorum and decency at all communications and though she liked humor and banter there should be no sexual innuendoes and double entendres, which I readily agreed. Fortunately she had placed no embargo on writing “love you” which I was in the habit of writing after every third or fourth sentences to all my friends, especially female friends (LOL). May be she thought I had already understood that which frankly I hadn’t. Had she placed that restriction, that would have galled me the most. She also wrote that I hadn’t read or commented on her post for a long long time for which she wanted an amendment in me. She opined that if we didn’t interact what was the meaning of carrying such a lifeless friendship ? I replied that what about her? Did she read the stories I had sent her. Did she communicate or share anything with me during that time? I confessed I had tried my best but her areas of interest were so confined to America, its local affairs, western music and songs that I couldn’t sustain my interest for long because my knowledge about them was like peanuts. Only thing about America I knew was its literature, its Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Saul Bellow, I.B Singer, Malamud et al whom I loved so much. She confessed she had read some of my writings and found them good. She added like me she had majored in English lit which was fine for me. She also said there was a Pakistani boy in her class in college whom she liked much which was again fine for me. At least these statements dispelled a notion in me that her interest was confined to America only. We resolved to stay in touch and share whichever way possible.

I have always been surprised by the way things happen in life. While visiting Dina’s page I had no preconceived desire or intention to find that unusual post or write that unfortunate comment. But that happened. After deleting that comment I had thought that that was the end of it but that was not to be. But inspite of this apparently senseless event happening what ultimately emerged was a far more happy outcome for me in the form of a sturdy and lively friendship with Lisa which in the days to come would unfold and unfold and unfold the like of which, may be, the world may not have witnessed given the constraint of a long distance friendship solely sustained by words. Many times in my messages I would, out of nowhere, in the midst of sharings of a completely different nature and topic I would remind her of that unfortunate indiscretion of mine and apologize to her again and she would implore me to forget that incident of the past. Once she wrote,” It was on Dina’s wall you had written that. If Dina didn’t have anything to complain about then who am I to complain ? I had verified with Dina and she denied having seen or removed any of your post on her wall. The matter is closed there. Forget that and get ahead.’’
Once I asked her a little about her personal life. Was she married or did she live with a boyfriend? She replied her boyfriend had left her. I assured her he would be back. She asked why did I think so. I replied where else he would find a more lovely and loving girlfriend. I described her as the most beautiful creation of God. I quoted half of a Keats’ poem in praise of her. I concluded that her man must be regretting his decision to quit her and must be trying hard to get back to her and patch up things with her. She wished her man could she in her all the qualities that I saw. But she said she had no such hope of getting him back as she had given him a severe dressing down while sending him away. I told her she didn’t know men as much I knew. Men loved being scolded by beautiful women who loved them. She asked how did I know her as beautiful. I said I could feel her beauty in my heart. My eyes also could see her beauty in the jean half pants-clad photo of her she had on her page. She said that was not her photo. She didn’t keep a single photo of her there. I asked why. She said for security reasons. She said she even couldn’t disclose where she worked. I was surprised at her concern for security. I wondered if she worked for a James bond like secret agent but didn’t ask her. She told me I had a very high opinion of her. She said she was not even beautiful, she was just plain. She thought though she liked my high opinion of her she tended to believe what her boyfriend thought about her, which was not much. I told her even boy -friends and husbands could be wrong. A lover was always right because he never gave much credence to eyes and ears as senses could deceive. A lover’s heart was always right. But staying as a lover throughout the relationship is a difficult job. Boyfriends or girlfriends very often fail. I asked where did her boyfriend go. She said to the sea. He was a sailor or marine I forgot which. I said he would come back. One day she said one of her ears ached and water oozed in and filled the ear. She had sinusitis. She had infections in her throat and ears. She heard loud plonk plonk sounds when water drops touched her eardrum in that ear. She said she had temperature in her body. Then I felt concerned for her. Truly, I had a choking sensation in my throat. What a pity! A single woman alone in her apartment and none with her to comfort her or to give her a warm massage or to accompany her to a doctor. I implored her to go to a doctor forthwith. A doctor could completely cure her in short time.

Thereafter her health became the prime subject of our sharings. She assured me that she had consulted a doctor and was regularly taking medicines. She said she was plagued with this disease for long. She doubted if she could ever be completely cured. Somedays afterwards I asked if her boyfriend had returned. She said no. I said don’t lose faith, he would certainly return. One day she asked why did I always have such good opinion of her. I knew in her conservative way, that much she could imagine her culture allowing her, she couldn’t possibly ask me why did I love her. I knew she was substituting high opinion in place of love and after all what was love but a sincerely felt high opinion. I said there was no other way to know her. She asked why did I want to know her. I said without knowing her I couldn’t know God. She said she didn’t see the connection. I said we are all connected. If I could know her or any one for that matter or anything else then I could understand the whole universe. While trying to know her I was actually trying to know myself.

One day she really surprised me. She asked me to guess how old she was. I said she was in her late twenties. She said no, much more than that. I said then she must be no more than in her thirties. She said she was much more than that. I refused to guess her any older. She asked would I still have those romantic thoughts and high opinions of her if she told me her real age. I said tell it and see for yourself. If you thought I would run away from you after knowing your real age, then it was all in your interest to tell it forthwith. You would get rid of an undesirable dud out of your back so easily. She didn’t immediately reply, but the next day her message reached me. That was the surprise of all surprises I have got in life. She said she was fifty seven years old, two years older than me. My year of birth was 1955, she must have got it from my page in FB, unlike her I had mentioned many things about myself there. I said I was surprised, even shocked. Not only that she proved so much older than I had thought her. But I was also surprised how she kept up such a girl- like enthusiasm, energy, humor and zest in life. I said I had to believe her words as I had never doubted her. But I would rather go by my heart which told me that she was a young girl, youth in spirit, as young as anyone could be. I would go on visualizing her as before, eternally young, vivacious and beautiful. She said I was incorrigibly romantic.

Days went by. We kept in touch. She had a peculiar habit which I fully understood as I was not completely free of it. She never wrote me a message first. But if I wrote her she almost always responded. I confess, with most friends I am like that. But with her I always took the initiative. That she responded was enough for me. I sometimes wonder at the power and sway of love over us. It always made you do many things with pleasure that you had never in your wildest dreams imagined before. I thought probably secretly, unwittingly ,even unaware to herself she was half in love with me. Not to the extent I was with her; but in her own way, caged, confined and cirmcumsized as she was by her unwavering faith in her tradition and culture. She wore her culture as her skin while for me love was everything. For me anything that came before love didn’t stand a chance of surviving like that of a bullock cart placed in the tracks of a speeding train pulled by a 500000 horsepower engine. But I could feel that she responded to my love for her in her own way. Otherwise why would she care to reply to almost all of my messages. She never ever declared her love for me, but without love could anyone care to reply or would anyone have the patience to read my long outpourings of love or would anyone find the words to reply, I wondered.

One day, in reply to one of my impassioned letters she asked what I thought was the future of such love to which she didn’t believe as her culture forbade her. I replied what mattered was her moments with me, did she find them enjoyable or boring. I said I had no concern with the future. In future we are all dead. The importance of love was that it immediately put you at ease with yourself. To me the love that had no future was a very beautiful thing in itself. If it is present in the present it is enough to itself and to the ones in it. The day you told I bored you that would be the end of it. From my side that was a very long long way off. I didn’t think about that at the moment. I knew I would continue to love you even after your boyfriend returned to you, which one day he certainly would. I always wished he returned sooner to take care of you and your physical needs. I had nothing to do with your physical aspect of being except I always wished you good health and to be well provided. I was connected with your heart with love,affections and fellow feelings. I had no illusions of ever living with you physically. I knew I was nothing physically, more an expender of energy myself than an energy giver to anyone. But connected in love I am everywhere, everything. So are you. So let’s feel each other only in heart, In love where we have our original face and our true identity.

I am grateful to Facebook for making this kind of love possible where man and woman can communicate, share and even love each other being unburdened by the dictates of a physical existence which very often assumed a tyrannical power over us. I am reminded of one of many episodes of one of my most favorite authors, Sasthi Brata’s autobiographical novel, “The Confessions of an Indian lover” where he described how he and a white woman with whom he had shortly started to live with were hounded out of a largely irish neighbourhood in London by inhuman and violent means just because he was an Indian. The bloodchilling account of a night while Brata and his girlfriend were sleeping, stones began to be hurled at them and finally a brick came crashing into their room with a paperwrapped around it where it was written,”you cock sucking whore,living with a wog, get out of here before we kill you both.” That is what the tyranny of a physical existence has gifted us. A little difference in color of our skin or iris, a little difference in accents, a little difference in build and height and our separateness assumes gigantic proportions and manmade difference in culture and tradition only stokes the fire. Our connection in one heart, one truth, one love is forgotten. Facebook has been doing a seminal work in making us connected as we are meant to be, connected in heart and soul in love unburdened by a woefully inadequate physical existence. What Plato had conceived centuries before and what is so well known as Platonic love has been given, for the first time, a chance to be practiced on the Earth. If mankind couldn’t accept each other physically, the body posed the major barrier, a threat; let it then learn growing familiar, accepting, allowing and accommodating the other being shorn of body, as it were, in the pages of Facebook. Even that will not be a mean achievement. It may also prepare for a fuller and more integrated acceptance later.

Let me be back at the story of Lisa and me and let us see if I can provide at least one more surprise. One day Lisa disappeared from the Facebook unannounced. I waited for her return. Days merged into weeks and weeks into months. My posting on her wall, “Where are you Lisa ?” remained unanswered. Nobody was there to answer. My concern for her ran high during the first month. But as months passed by and when it exceeded three or four months I began to feel elated and relieved. I was fairly certain that she had been joined with her boy friend. How I knew I won’t tell but it conformed to a pattern I had observed with many in FB. Now I waited for her announcement. Not many days later she resurfaced in Facebook. That same day I messaged her,”Dear Lisa. This time please don’t deny that your boyfriend is back with you. I am sure he is with you or you are with him.” I was correct. She replied, she was with him. Her beau had presented her with a diamond ring and a bracelet. She requested me not to divulge anything because nothing has been finalized yet. I suggested that at least she change that line “In a complicated relationship” to “in a relationship” which she did. I asked his name and she magnanimously complied. A few days later I requested her to upload his photo which she in a way did. She uploaded a sketch of him, and oh boy, what a handsome guy he was. And he was may be about forty. Now I knew why my heart was refusing to believe that she was nearing sixty. Didn’t I tell you she was just a wonderfully lovely,vivacious and beautiful young woman. They will form a lovely pair too. My blessings will be always with them. Won’t you bless them for me ?