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Life in a blackout

Recently some big, really big Sahab with a 24 GB RAM, i-7 Intel processor and a crashed 4TB hard drive ordered, “And now there will be no internet shinternet in Kashmir.” And lo, there was no internet. For 70 hours it was down and out. Total blackout.So some of you went crazy. You cussed and cursed, fumed and boiled. “Oh! How can I live without FB, WhatsApp, Instagram….That’s my oxygen,” you asked and asked. Some others played it cool. “Great!  Abbtou hum relax shelaxkaraengae without this fhasebook, shhasebook,” they said. 


For 23-year old Heeba the shutdown wasn’t anything new. “Bans in the past have taught me how to live in the digital age without any connectivity,” says Heeba. She then gets scholarly about it. “You realize how miserable your control on your own life in this part of the world is, where in the name of ‘safeguarding peace’ your freedom to live is trampled every now and then.” No wonder this is coming from someone who has studied journalism. Marhaba, zour-e-taqreeraurzydah.Truly, there are times when you understand the vanity of modern tech-driven life; times when you realize the whole world around you is nothing but a giant water bubble which somebody will prick and it will be all over.

The blackout lasted the entire three day celebrations of BakrEid.  No, I am not suggesting it was an opportunity for us to click ‘refresh’ on our faith screen. Or, we should have filled ourselves with some GBs of piety on this holy day that teaches the spirit of submission and sacrifice. That’s for the Celeron-based Moulanas to do. What this shutdown made us realize was the frailty of our virtual world. Push a button and it is gone.

There is a huge number of you who can’t imagine life without internet. Luckily, not all think our life depends on it. Some are actually happy about getting a break from it. 

Bisma believes internet is important, but, she adds, it is not something which is an absolute necessity. “We used to do just fine before internet in Kashmir, so why this hubbub about the blackout for three days?” she asks.

And for some, the shutdown worked out in a different way. Heeba was planning to get a new battery for her Smartphone because she thought the one she had, had worn out. It wouldn’t evenlast half a day. But with no internet and no data connection, the battery ran like a dream. I realized I was just using too much internet causing the battery to run out of juice so fast.” Well, Heeba how about passing on some ‘change’ to us? Paisa aekjagharakhtaenahinhai. Keep it in circulation. That’s what the economists have always told us.

And then there were others who went into a self-reflection mode. Ejaz, who works for a local newspaper, got time to think about his life in the three days without internet. “I never knew I had so much time on my hands! I always felt like there was a shortage of time for me to do stuff like meet my childhood friends.” Ejaz, like most of us, is an addict—internet addict—I mean to say. “I have become so addicted, even when I am not spending time on social networks, I surf the web for news or sports updates. Those 70 hours without internet gave me so much time to think about other things, about myself and my future.” Good, keep it up dude. And pass on these life lessons to  the world which believes internet is everything. But bro, there is only one way to do it. Log in.

Ejaz didn’t miss the internet but Aamir, who works for an online news portal based in Mumbai from his home in Islamabad did. He has to mail assignments for the day to his editor before six every evening. “I would have been terribly hit if the ban had stretched,” says Amir. “You can’t work without internet in today’s times. Organizations like the one I work for will definitely think twice before hiring someone from Kashmir because of these internet blackouts here.”

 But, the blackout came as a much needed break for Amir. “It came as a breather for me. I don’t get too many holidays with the kind of work I am involved in. But, this time my editor had no option but to let me rest!” he quips.

Beena, who works with an IT company, feels the internet blackout was a throwback to the 90’s, “Those 3 days were like those times when your only source of information were TV and radio. Information from these sources can or cannot be of your use. But information from the internet is real time and therefore much more useful,” explains Beena. “The blackout did make me feel less informed as the ‘smart’ was reduced from my ‘Smartphone’. I felt detached from the rest of the world.” Beena, how about trying the ‘unsmart’ phone? You won’t get the blues then if they pull the switch again.

 For some, the shutdown was a God-sent break to add to  Eid celebrations as they got time to spend with their families. Needless to say they hardly otherwise spend time with their families because they are all wired into the net. Shame!

Sakib, a management graduate says he felt so relieved as he didn’t have to worry about replying to Eidgreetings.“Personally for me, it brought a relief from pesky messages and half-hearted greetings,” Sakib tells me.

Sakib’s friend Maroof believes just the opposite. “Kashmiris were isolated from the whole world and that too on Eid. We have friends and family outside whom we can get across to only through mails or over social networks. We just couldn’t even wish 'Eid Mubarak' to anyone. That’s sad,” complains Maroof. He says he never misses to Skype Eid greetings to a close friend who's studying outside, but this time couldn't send even a text message. “It isn’t just about us not being able to wish those outside Kashmir, but also about how would they have felt on the day on being not wished by anyone from here.”

Shahid, who is studying dentistry in Delhi could not be contacted by any of his Kashmiri friends on Eid, “Only my family members wished me on Eid. I used to get so many wishes from my childhood friends on social networks, but this time there were none. That made me feel lonely,” he complains.

 It was a similar letdown for Shakir who is doing MBBS in Lahore, Pakistan and could not be contacted even by his family, “I can make calls to Kashmir from Pakistan only through Skype. But with the internet shut down in Kashmir, I had no contact with any one from my family or my friends. I missed them so much.”

 Probably nobody would fight with the fact that internet has become an essential part of today’s communication. But, most youth have taken dependence on internet-related services to levels where you can safely call it addiction. The pangs youth went through during this 70 hour blackout bears that out.

 I spoke to Dr. Mohammad Maqbool, Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Government Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences, about this overdependence. “Sudden clampdown on internet can result in anxiety. It can lead to feelings of loneliness,” says the doctor. Dr Maqbool says face to face interactions are much better modes of socializing than texting or video chatting. “Young people keep to their rooms and prefer spending time online. This has led to fracturing of the society.” Senior psychiatrist DrMushtaqMarghoob adds, “This is happening at the cost of your day to day activities and your primary responsibilities. When a blackout like this happens it causes a disturbance producing what we call a stressor.”

Hmmm! Time to log out and connect personally.

  • Title: Life in a blackout
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