When you live half a world away from the people you love, you adapt. You learn, even if it’s not your forte, all the social media and video-calling and trouble-shooting when you can’t see the other person’s screen. It was simpler in 2007 when we’d go to an Indian grocery store and buy a pre-paid card and dial all of the numbers and hear the familiar cadence (that still rings in my ears once in a while): “Welcome to Reliance. Please enter the number you wish to call, starting with country code.”
But Skype broke onto the scene, so soon clunky desktops and attachable webcams were the norm, and then Facebook and Instagram and Whatsapp made immediate communication possible and we reveled in it. We called at any hour and we would talk for a bit only to call back later on with some new piece of information.
My grandparents were both pros online. Comments and posts were frequent and status changes were a daily occurrence. My grandfather tagged me and forty other people in almost everything he posted, even if it was in Bangla and he knew I wouldn’t be able to read it. My grandmother commented on almost everything I posted anywhere, even if no one else did. There were Photoshop collages on our birthdays and pictures and videos of new flowers in the garden and of food and of them dressed up and going to work in the community or going to weddings or picture of cute dogs. They left a mark on my internet spaces that I keep going back to and looking at, a once thriving and vibrant internet city, with flooding comments and posts and signals of life that meant things were good and normal and okay, a regular good morning and good night to start and end the days. It’s a monument now. A testament to the community they built. The friends they had and the family they started. I’ve been looking at old posts and messages a lot lately, until it makes me too sad.The posts aren’t sad, but the fact that there is a date past which neither of them were active at all, that’s the part that’s hard to look past.
Sometimes, despite all the techy-ness that both Didiya and Dadai exhibited regularly, there were some glitches (as there always are). Bios were hard and confusing and not really important. For example, Dadai’s says “At school”, which is honestly kind of amusing. But Didiya’s bio on Whatsapp, I hadn’t looked at for a while. And I don’t know why or when she made this her bio, or if it was a message to someone specific that was typed mistakenly in the wrong place. I don’t know if it was intentional (somehow I kind of doubt it). But still, it felt a little meant for us, for right now, when I looked at her bio on Whatsapp tonight and it read “Love you my sweet heart”.
The last message on Whatsapp I sent her was on April 15th, though we talked over Whatsapp after that too, ducking my head into the frame every time I saw my mom on the phone with her. The last time I talked to Dadai was the day before he died and he was so talkative that he got in trouble with his nurse for using too much oxygen. We talked about how I was going to be graduating soon and he asked me to send him a link to the ceremony and I said I would. I have a screenshot from that conversation, and in that moment, I don’t know why I took it, but now it’s the last picture I have with the two of us in it.
And as I go through their posts, and my own, and pictures in my mom’s albums, I think that we should have had more pictures and more videos and more conversations over the phone. More video calls and voice memos and games of ludo in their living room, eating aloo bhaja on the floor as I lose yet another game to my little brother, who had the unfair advantage of Didiya whispering the right moves to him and Dadai laughing at the ensuing argument. But most I think we should have just had more time. It was too quick, too sudden, too abrupt. And the shrines they built themselves online just feel like loss.