WhatsApp groups: our new drawing rooms

I am petrified these days when I am “added” to yet another WhatsApp group – especially those that have a congregation of large numbers. At home, when you invited people over, there was usually one accepted benchmark: “like-minded”; alas, with non-virtual drawing room meet-up sessions becoming a thing of the past now, I have to make my peace with tenuous connections – sometimes with those I’d never meet in real time in the real world (an afternoon coffee session at Delhi’s Khan Market or the food court at Dubai’s Oasis Centre for an intense one-on-one) because, well, they aren’t “my” kind of people.

It’s rare that our permissions are sought before we get caged into a group. Another person only has to have your number, and, one day, you may find yourself staring at “so-and-so added you to XXX”. “Hey, I don’t want to be here,” you may want to say, but it’s too late. You are already there.

After having to suffer the bondage of several such groups, I realise the basic difference between real socialising and its online group version is the time-boundedness. Entertaining evenings would often spill into the wee hours at times, but then they ended, and everyone went their separate ways.

On WhatsApp groups, the engagement is endless.

There’s no Cinderella hour.

Particularly now, when everyone is desperately trying to overcompensate for deficit of face-to-face (or faces-to-faces) trysts.

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Every day, it’s someone’s or his/her grandfather’s birthday or anniversary or (a random) felicitation or vaccine-taking photo op. Cakes, bubbly bottles, balloons and hugs have to be carefully curated and pasted along with a lame message on how proud/happy/wonder-struck I am that you have managed to stay married for two years or taken the second dose of your vaccine. The scary part is that a lot of “groupies” actually keep tabs on who’s saying what in “qualitative” terms. A matter-of-fact “happy birthday” will be considered cheap. There may be talk behind your back that you are a skinflint with love and affection; there may be talk as to what life circumstances have compelled you to morph into a “cold fish”. So it’s safer to send (emojis of) flowers, gifts, red hearts (not black ones) and so on along with “Dear xxxx, have a super birthday, love you, muah”, and lie that he or she may be 45 but looks not a day older than 30.

I heard this telling anecdote from a friend who revealed she’s recently discovered that there is a sub-group of a larger WhatsApp group she’s (reluctantly) part of. In the smaller one, participants discuss what’s happening in the larger setting. “Did you see the photo of ___’s new car, the one he posted in the other group? He claims it’s worth half a million but I know for a fact he’s lying: it’s worth half of that!” I told her it’s like the drawing room-bedroom analogy. The larger group would be in a drawing room discussing facts and fiction, while a smaller group would retreat to the bedroom to gossip about “certain” people sitting on sofas in the next room.

I’ve heard many complain bitterly about WhatsApp family groups, but I have to say I am incredibly blessed in this department. Nobody in my family – immediate, medium-range, extended – wants to lay it on thick; in fact, they border on callousness, months going by, nobody posting safety protocol literature or asking everyone what kind of precautions they are taking to ward off Covid. They couldn’t care less, and thank God for that.

Is there a way to sneak out of a group without announcing your departure? Usually a message is broadcast to all members, ‘So-and-so has left the group’, and that’s something I’d rather give a bypass to because, yes, I’m a diffident coward. I looked up online. There was an article, ‘How to leave [WhatsApp] group without being noticed’, that said: “The easiest way to leave a WhatsApp group is to simply opt for the mute or disable group notifications. This way, you will never be prompted about the chatter being carried out on the WhatsApp group. You can always turn on this notification setting any time you want.”

Doesn’t work for me because, in any case, all my notifications are on mute. So, how can I rid myself of this immense mental pressure of having stage-fright each time I open the WhatsApp app and see hundreds of ‘unread’ messages, like virus clusters, attached to groups, that I don’t want to read but have to and then respond – because if I don’t respond I may be judged?

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