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The WhatsApp Group

By Preethi Warrier

The cell phone beeped again and she rushed to read the WhatsApp message on her brand new smart phone. It took a while to unlock, her grandson had set a complicated pattern.
She hurriedly touched the app, and yes, it was Parvathy and they were going to meet after all, after almost forty five years.

It all started when out of the blue, she met an old school mate Radha at a wedding. They talked all the time, exchanged numbers, but when Radha offered to send her Whatsapp messages on a daily basis, Meera confessed she didn’t own a smart phone.
Back home, she wondered how to tell her son she wished to own a smart phone too. Strange how children, any age could ask their parents for anything and parents always hesitated doing the same. It was different when her husband was alive, but she was a bit reluctant now, demanding her son for a more expensive phone...

So for months, she stayed away from the temptation of WhatsApp and Radha’s spiritual messages, but then when her grandson accidentally dropped her ‘not very smart’ phone and smashed it into pieces, her son bought her a new one, a smarter version this time. Her  grandson used it more than her though, on the pretext of training her. 

She texted Radha, the only contact she had, who in turn, supplied her, the contacts of a few other classmates, way back, from school. But Meera hardly knew anyone, she had been shy and quiet at school, her best friend being Parvathy. But none of her lost and found acquaintances seemed to know Parvathy’s number.

It was on one of those days when her phone started beeping continually, much to everybody’s surprise, that she had realized that she was a member of a group.
“ Paatti, you are in a WhatsApp group now, school friends 1970... something something.”

Meera had no clue what he was talking about and he happily enlightened her. Within a matter of ten minutes, there were more than thirty messages and everybody in the group seemed to be welcoming her. Many of the names were unfamiliar, but it felt good. Few of them had belonged to other divisions, and almost half a century later, they were making friends. Funny, she smiled to herself.

But the icing on the cake was, Parvathy called her one day, she having been a member of the group too. They had chatted for more than two hours, they had so much to catch up on. Parents, In-laws, kids, grandkids, other class mates, teachers....

Meera’s phone beeped almost every five minutes now and she would share something hilarious on the group with her son and family. To her dismay, she realized they were never as excited as her. 

“Mute that group Amma, all these old people, no other work to do, they keep exchanging meaningless jokes and videos. It’s sheer time waste.”

No work to do... Meera reflected. Cooking, washing, cleaning, from your childhood and even now, and we have no work, she sighed.

She let it pass, as she was enjoying being in touch with her friends now. Her life was full of activity, watching videos, posting replies, calling each other often, laughing, updating on latest gossip... Meera couldn’t recollect the last time she had felt so liberated at heart. After marriage, the conversations had been mostly limited to her in-laws, relatives, husband’s social groups and son’s friends. Amidst a tiring family life, she had forgotten what it was like to have a social life or go back to childhood. The Whatsapp group , however silly they called it, was her channel for relaxation, her only escape from her daily routine and worries... a dead spouse,ever busy son and daughter-in-law and a teenage grandson. 

One of those days, an active member of the group suggested a much needed reunion. Meera wasn’t a part of the venue selection, but as luck would have it, turned out, the meeting venue was very close to where she resided. It was a Sunday evening, so everybody would be at home and she could easily sneak out for some time. Or thus she thought...

“ One boy from our class has suggested a reunion at Orchids on Sunday evening. I was...”

She  stopped midway when she saw the three of them laughing.

“Boy !”, her grandson roared with laughter, “ All oldies over sixty years of age, and they call themselves boys and girls.”

Her son, still chuckling chipped in, “ These people really don’t have anything to do? And Amma, please don’t tell me you wish to go.”

“It’s close by, and a Sunday. I haven’t met Parvathy or Radha for ages, I thought I could just say Hi.”

Her daughter-in-law flashed a nasty look at Meera’s son and he spoke, “ We are off to a party on Sunday evening, the kid has his tuitions. Somebody has to be home when he returns.”

Meera was irritated now, she said it loudly for all to hear, “ He can take the keys with him, I will be back mostly by then. I want to meet my friends and I don’t expect anyone to accompany me. I can commute myself, so I guess it’s no burden.”

She stomped off to the kitchen and nobody spoke much with her that night, and even a few days after that. She wondered what crime she had committed, but the messages on the group kept her going, as almost everybody seemed pretty excited. 

The day of the reunion dawned and Meera was inspecting her sari collection, she couldn’t choose easily, some looked too grand and the rest were all too ‘daily wear’. Her daughter-in-law did see her but offered no help, the girl was cross with Meera since that night, when for once, Meera had spoken one octave loudly. Moreover, she overheard the girl grumbling to her husband, “ School reunion, and she is dressing up as if it’s a wedding.”

Meera sighed, she had never for once intentionally picked up an argument with her son or his wife and she didn’t intend to start now. She was in good spirits and she didn’t want to spoil the mood.

As she alighted from the auto rickshaw , she found the gates of the venue festooned with balloons and flowers, all decorated for the reunion and as she was paying up,  she felt a hand on her shoulders and there, stood Parvathy, her one time best friend,  with tears of joy in her eyes.

“Welcome Meera, can’t express how happy I am to see you. It’s been so long. ” they embraced.

Meera was quiet, so much had passed after they had last met for her marriage, but it still seemed like yesterday.

As they entered the hall, Meera was in for a huge welcome. Known faces, familiar names, all grey now, but happy and elated. Time seemed to fly as they had so much to catch up on. Some sang, some danced , somebody reminded Meera and Parvathy of an old Tamil duet they sang in school, and that evening, they sang it again. They were pleasantly surprised to realize they hadn’t forgotten the tune or the lyrics, some memories remain etched all our lives. Meera had a blast, to put it easily, she felt at ease, with the kitchen and household off her mind for some time.

“Let’s go for a two-day picnic.” somebody announced.

There were lots of suggestions, the destination, the stay, budget, food, travel... But then, they had their group. So a decision was made to discuss the picnic plan over the group. Parvathy confided to Meera that she would go if Meera joined.

On her way back home, Meera gave the picnic a serious thought. Overnight picnics without family had been a strict no-no before and after marriage. And even now she wasn’t free of bondage. That’s when, for the first time in four hours, she remembered her phone. Checking it gave her a fright, five missed calls from her son and grandson.

She requested the rickshaw diver to hurry, fretting, had her grandson been unable to open the door? Was he stuck outside?

She cursed herself for not checking the calls, she had been completely carried away by the reunion and lost all count of time. Hoping that everything was alright, she rang the bell, only to find them all watching tv on the couch. But she felt an eerie silence somehow, nobody smiled or talked to her.

The Short Story continues here....