The life and death of a WhatsApp group

This Indian life by Shoba Narayan:
When forwards lead to fulmination, it’s soon time to say goodbye

Shoba Narayan
Hindustan Times

Last time, I wrote about the irrational exuberance that accompanies a newly-created WhatsApp group. Well, this is about the turning point, which happened thus in my “Jawahar Bal Vidyalaya,” group. It came in the form of a terse message that said:

“@ravindersingh, as one of the admins of the group, I have to tell you that these incessant forwards of WhatsApp messages and videos is not allowed in this group. It takes up too much space. Plus we have seen these messages elsewhere.”

Uncle Ravinder, who was the octogenarian father of my Class V teacher, Jitender, responded to the admin’s message by forwarding three more videos: of a guy called Wilbur Sargunaraj showing foreigners how to use an Indian toilet (why was uncle obsessed with underwear and toilets?), one of what looked like a Chinese Barbie doll with perky boobs flying through Bhatinda, and the third of a store where lungi-clad men were mixing what looked like cement with milk powder.

The admin, whose moniker was @kritibenmistri responded with a sterner version of the same message along with the admonition, “@ravindersingh – irrelevant forwards may be good for retired folks without work, but please spare us the double or triple whammy.”

@ravindersingh’s response? “What is whammy?”

Things got heated from then on. Ravinder Uncle advised Kritiben Mistri to delete his messages if she didn’t want to read them. He asked if the group was barring retired people and showing ageism.

This prompted a dozen people to jump in and say that the Bal Vidyalaya group was founded on inclusiveness and nobody should feel excluded.

Ravinder Uncle then said rather peevishly that none of the admins were raising any objections when other people were forwarding messages about newfound galaxies and the menu when Modi entertained Xi in Chennai. Was the group against non-Gujarati forwards?

This prompted two dozen Gujaratis to jump in and say that they enjoyed Ravinder Uncle’s forwards very much. At which point the admin @krithibenmistri said, “Just to reiterate, this group is only for sharing news about our school and its students. Please send personal news only. About your children and achievements.”

Was the admin right in calling out the forwards? Absolutely. Was her tone appropriate? Not sure.

Ravinder Uncle certainly didn’t seem to think so. He said, “I am 84 years old. As an army man, I am not used to juniors addressing me with an @ sign. The admin could have sent me a discreet message privately instead of publicly humiliating me like this. No more messages from me to this elitist, ageist, sexist, jingoistic, anti-army group (whether relevant or irrelevant).”

Three dozen people jumped in and begged Ravinder Uncle not to boycott the group. They offered to take a poll and ask how many of the 256 people in the group liked his forwards and said that they were sure that a majority gained a lot of knowledge and self-esteem from his forwards. (The self-esteem bit was a bit much I thought, but I wasn’t going to argue.)

Ravinder Uncle replied right away. “You are all missing the core point. It is not about forwards. It is about tone of voice and the way the advice was written. My name was specifically mentioned in a public forum, words like irrelevant, lengthy forwards, double and triple whammy were used. I was made to feel very bad before the whole group. Why should I put up with this at my age?”

At which point, the admin chimed in by saying that she welcomed all messages that were personal and informative “including photos of your loved ones and your children.”

Nobody replied to her message. Then we got this notification.

“Kritiben Mistri left the group.”

So here we are, rudderless and without admin. Our group continues with a new admin named @subodhgupta. I doubt he is the sculptor.

There are two types of WhatsApp groups: one with a zero-tolerance policy towards forwards and the other with a laissez-faire attitude towards all content including forwards. The latter is like a village square. There is a lot of noise and chaos, but every now and then, a gem will appear. Strictly moderated groups are like a business meeting with an agenda: efficient, effective, transactional, useful. What type of group do you belong to? What type of an admin are you?

Like most of us, I belong to both types of WhatsApp groups and find them addictive. When there is a lull in your day, all you need to do is to open WhatsApp. Before you know it, you’ve spent five hours a day on this app. So what do you do?

What’s the best way to use WhatsApp? I asked the head of WhatsApp India.

Also read: This Indian life by Shoba Narayan: Did WhatsApp group messaging make Diwali fun?

This is the second of a three-part series on ‘How to use WhatsApp effectively’. Part 3 will appear on December 8, 2019.

(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents and other unique facets of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)

This Indian Life appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, November 24 , 2019