That day, when a complete stranger’s message popped up on her laptop screen, Neha’s perception of reality changed forever.
She had been quite close to her mother. Over the years, when she left home for studies, work and later as she built her own family. Her mother had been that one constant, like a beacon, calm, steady, sensible, well respected and always balanced. Yes, she had been quite close. Or atleast that is what Neha had believed till she clicked on that message in her Facebook inbox from an unknown name.
It was the 11th day since her mother’s passing. After a long illness and frequent hospitalization, that unshakeable beacon, Mrs. Shantha V had finally taken her last breath amidst friends, family and grandchildren.
And later that same day at the brink of midnight, Neha discovered that the one life her mother had in this world, of physical manifestations, of sunrises and sunsets, of family, festivals and food, of bills and weddings, of phone calls and bank accounts, that one life was not the only one that had ended that morning.
There was an alter ego, a life of fantasies, of imagined world tours and funny blind dates, of mean scandalous jibes and statutes decorated with unbelievable expletives. A very real and a very digital alter ego of “Sexy Shelia” on various social media platforms, that was never going to create another post again. Ever.
Neha’s mind was numb from the grief. The grief she felt from losing a mother, from the torrents of memories that were splashing around in the house as relative after relative and neighbour after neighbour came in with tear filled eyes and affectionate stories of her mother. Photographs came out of boxes and cupboard drawers. Vintage Black & Whites, tacky Polaroids and then prints of digital HD ones reviving long lost anecdotes of three generations.
But more than all of that, Neha’a mind was numb from the shock of having scrolled through years of posts, pictures and comments that Sexy Sheila a.k.a Mrs. Shanta V had created in the alternate digital universe.
There were times when all Neha could think about, was when she could politely excuse herself from the myriad ceremonies and social encounters to go back to her laptop and scroll to the flirtatious post of 99’ on Orkut or the status update of Valentine’s Day 2010 on Facebook or scroll through the Insta chats of as late as last month.
The random message in Neha’s inbox that fateful night was from Sexy Sheila’s facebook account. The account had the DP of an aged but smart Indian female with short cropped hair , dressed in denim shorts and an almost see-through white kurta seated on an Enfield, on a beach, as the wind swept those short grey and white strands of hair across her eyes and forehead. Neha wondered whose picture her mother was using so adamantly and openly as her own? Did she know the woman in the picture? Had they ever met? Was she a part of this alter-ego con?
The message read “Dear Neha, Don’t cry because you think my life, the one you knew about, ended. There is a life in an alternate parallel universe that can still type and post. It’s yours to discover and live if you like….” And this very cryptic philosophical message was followed by a list of Sexy Sheila’s various social media account ids and passwords.
As Neha opened each profile, Orkut, then Facebook, then Twitter, then Insta, even a couple of profiles in less dignified shady chatrooms, the same cropped hair lady’s face stared at her in the DPs.
As Neha scrolled through megabytes of digital history, she realized what her mother would have looked like if she hadn’t married Neha’s dad or decided to pursue the life of a homemaker in a tiny society dominated town. What her mother really thought about the world and the people around. What her mother felt about the values she, herself, had so staunchly embedded in her children. What her mother thought of true love and good art.
Opening that one random stranger’s message in her inbox opened an entire new universe where she could rediscover her mother in an avatar not defined by this restrictive society or the choices her mother made in this world. But what her mother’s mind and soul truly looked like, when unshackled from what now seemed a very shallow interpretation of values and morals.
And each night, as the family slept, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, Neha scrolled through bytes and bytes of the evolution of Sexy Sheila, from a thirty something new woman online to a fifty-five year old spinster biking the world away in her mind.