Nandini Shanbag, Longlist Short Story 2017

WhatsApp Group

Nandini S Shanbhag

I am in the middle of a working day. The manager is breathing down my neck for a report. I have to concentrate and get that out. I am startled by the sudden ring of the phone. I look at it and see that it is unknown number. Being in sales, I cannot afford to miss a call, it could mean business. I answer the call.
“Hello?”
“Hello, is that Karthik?”
“Yes…”
“Hi Karthik, do you remember me, I am Sohan.”
“Sohan?”
“Yes, Sohan, your St. Charles school mate from tenth standard”
“Oh, Sohan, sorry I am not able to recollect…”

“I can understand, many years have gone by and we have not been in touch. I was that slim boy with spectacles who used to always sit in the last but one bench. That physics teacher always picked at me for something or the other, do you remember?”
I am racking my brains. I think I remember him, yes I guess the physics teacher used to pick at someone, was that Sohan? Did he wear a specs? Well, I ma not sure, memories are vague, Except for the three to four people from the close circle, I have not kept in touch with my school mates. The graduate college and MBA memories are much more fresher. Perhaps, Sohan will feel a bit sorry and troubled if I say I don’t recognize him still. Honestly, I cant even remember that Physics teacher. I nevert liked it anyway. But, here I go…

“Hi Sohan, yes, of course I remember you. How have you been? Where are you now and what are you doing?
“I am in Delhi, chap, same as you. I am running my dad’s business nowadays. What about you, what do you do?
“I am an assistant sales manager at XXXXX. I take care of their channel partners in this region.”
“Wow, that’s great.”
“How did you find me?”

“Well, you see I just felt like getting a Whatsapp group going for your tenth school mates. SO I started searching for people on the Internet, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. And I found you through a common friend, Rohit.”
“Oh, Rohit….”
“Yes, I think Rohit plays badminton with you and his kid is in the same school as yours”
“Oh, yes, Rohit, how do you know him?”

“He is related to my wife and I was telling him the other day about my efforts to get a WhatsApp group going. He asked me for details and said that he remembered you mentioning our school name. And l got your number from him. So, I am adding you to the group, there are already some twenty of them in there. The rest of the conversation can happen there. I hope that’s ok?”
“Yes, of course, please do , no issues, I will catch up with everyone.”

I thanked Sohan for finding me and passed on a few more contacts to him that I had. By evening, I find myself added in the WhatsApp group. I peep in to the group and find many welcome messages. Hi Karthik, Howdy, Do you remember me?, blah blah it went on. Frankly, I could only vaguely recollect few of them and the rest drew a blank. But, I cannot let slip that age is catching up with me. So, I just keep saying that hi, yes, how do you do, what’s up etc.

While in the class, we all had our own groups, there was no mobile or WhatsApp then. While we interacted with most, it was not easy to remember all faces after decades are gone. However, I slowly started getting to know each of them through the group. I started asking what they do, their family, their interests, I found a few stayed around my place. We decided to meet up for an evening out. There were ten of us in the city. We get together and the sight of the faces did kind of ring a bell. Few have put on weight, few years, few started wearing a specs, few have greying years and few have none left, the hair I mean!

We gleefully start talking about our lives, our school days, our pranks, our clandestine affairs etc. in between downing mugs of beer. In a few hours, we felt like school mates again and I kind of started feeling like I knew them all well. Limited friends of the school days now took a different turn. It was like we had to share everything with everyone. Day started with a peep into the group and responding to people. And the day ended with the same. In between, at lunch time too I peeped in, just to make sure I don’t miss anything or any fun.

Days and weeks and months passed. The numbers in the group started swelling as everyone added someone or the other. We were almost close to the class strength by now. Frantic search was happening for others. We planned a grand reunion at our school and lot of plans were put in place. People across were coming in, even from the USA and the Middle East.

Finally the day arrives and all of us get together in the school, meet a few of our teachers, share our experiences, eat and make merry. All our social media is flooded with posts and selfies. We are all smiles.
A few days later I get a call from one of the group members,
“Hey, just check the news, buddy”
“Why, what happened?”

“Our friend Madhu has been arrested in connection with a recent rape case. The channels have got hold of your recent school reunion photo from his Facebook post and they are flashing it. We have become famous, damn, I mean in famous!!!”

“What the hell… Are you serious? Wait a minute, let me put on the TV and check”
I rush to our recreation room and see that the TV is on, I ask him for the channel and put it on. And yes, I see myself smiling with my hand on his shoulder. The anchor kept saying that there were a few accomplices who have helped him in the case and that everyone associated with him may be questioned etc. Oh, boy, this is bad news, I did not even know the guy till a few days back. I certainly did not recollect him from school days.

What’s going to happen to me now, will my company find out and fire me? What will I tell the police if they get hold of me? What will I tell my family and how will I explain a picture taken with a rapist? Oh, bloody Sohan, and his WhatsApp group, where have I Ianded myself!!!!! The first thing to do is quit that group and I did. But is it too little, too late? Time will tell. I await my future, a little fearful and for sure, no more WhatsApp groups for me unless I REALLY KNOW THE PEOPLE involved.

 

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