(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 4th October 2008)
When one runs into someone who occupies the friend-acquaintance border, after a really long time, and both parties have feigned delight at seeing each other, and hidden the dismay of not knowing how to start a conversation, given one has forgotten whether the other is married, has siblings, is employed etc., the safest question to ask is, "So, what have you been upto?" Which is exactly what I did. I wasn't quite prepared, though, for the answer.
"Oh, we went to ma's place first thing, then we went shopping, and we had lunch…oh, you should check out this new place on Chamiers Road! We simply loooove Italian food, so it was awesome! And then we've come here to do some more shopping! Puja time, na?"
You would empathise with my apprehensions if you had lived in the room next to the one occupied by a woman who suffered from schizophrenia. That individual, who had three personalities, had once threatened me with a knife, only for an alter ego to take over and ask me why I looked so nervous, and then a third to invite me to chop vegetables with her. Two years and four thousand miles down the line, I was confronted in my own hometown, by someone I had known well enough, I thought, who obviously suffered from the same ailment.
It was with a mixture of relief and horror that I realised this was not the case, as a man laden with shopping bags and smelling of takeout food, which I attributed to the plastic bag he was carrying, materialised next to the friend-acquaintance-border-occupant. This, clearly, was the other half of the "we".
"Arindam, meet Nandini," the occupant pronounced.
The horror had come because this was confirmation that the "We" species had taken over the world. They're everywhere, and the numbers are increasing. Popularly known as the "we" species, the Wecallourselvesweites refer to a brand of scary individuals of the suborder Couples, order Human, typically having an exaggerated sense of their own selves and their importance to the rest of the Human order, two pairs of arms, two pairs of legs, four eyes, two noses, two mouths, four ears and therefore twice the number of body parts an Individual of the order Human does. They also have a propensity to know each other's email and other passwords, have access to each other's mobile phones, and often trade levels of intimacy with each other's friends. That is to say, the Female of the Couple might well infiltrate the Male's circle of friends to the extent the Male's circle would find itself more loyal to the Female, in the course of time, and vice versa. They also tend to email everyone of their faintest acquaintance links to their Picasa web albums, showcasing romantic getaways, along with apologies for not sending them earlier.
To someone who has a live-in relationship with her laptop, television, DVD player and shruthi box, and whose roommates are books and slippers, which keep mostly to themselves, there can be no graver cause for near-suffocation than meeting a member of the Wecallourselvesweite species. Indeed, some have known to have reacted in much the same way as Casanova would have had he bumped into an enthusiastic girlfriend toga-shopping for him with his mother. The immediate symptoms of such we-induced-attacks are a spell of constrained breathing, barely disguised choking, a severe ache in the antisocial recesses of one's brain and a complete loss for words. Long-term effects include severing of ties with the Couple.
Some former friends have scared me by saying "we're talking to a friend of ours, so we'll call later", "we're not well, so we won't be able to make it" and "we're checking our email", but one particular incident has scarred my memory forever. The Female of a Couple once whined to me, "they've been asking us to get pregnant, but we really don't know if that's a good idea." My response that a doctor in Bangkok would be very interested in trying the case out, and had in fact advertised for Male volunteers for the experiment, ensured that was the last time I spoke to Them.