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Only Connect: Addressing the anxieties of a post-Facebook era
ADITYA MANI JHA  9th Aug 2014

Annie Zaidi and Kiran Nagarkar

.M. Forster might have written the words "Only connect" in the context of class conflict, but he would have been amused to see how frequently the epigraph to his masterpiece Howards End is used as a proxy for the post-Facebook era's anxieties. To cite a small example, we no longer "introduce" two of our friends to each other; we "connect" them over an e-mail or Facebook. Only Connect! is the title of a recent Rupa anthology of Indian and Australian short fiction about "Technology and Us". It has been edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle, and contains 20 themed short stories.

The first and the most important assault is made on language, and we see the workings of this process in Annie Zaidi's characteristically bittersweet At Home, head and shoulders the best story of this collection. The protagonist of At Home is Jay, a young, somewhat introverted woman in a long-distance relationship — perhaps the ideal candidate for a project like Only Connect! Jay is endearingly awkward about her masculine-sounding name, but as we get to know her, through the course of (presumably) a Google Chat conversation, we realise that Jay is being extraordinarily upfront by her standards, that she is, in fact, making a huge effort in order to have any kind of relationship at all with people her own age. Through Jay's somewhat contrived speech patterns, we understand so much about her past and her efforts to fit in that it's a bit of a marvel that the story is just a little over seven pages long.

"What I mean is, what is there to say? It is hard to say. For me. I don't hide it in photos. I don't want to hide anything. Everyone should see so there is no misunderstanding. If you don't want to talk to me because of this thing, then don't talk to me. That is what I want to tell people. But still, people add me. On Facebook, there are so many people. And the children at the school, they are too sweet. If I had a car and a driver, I would go there every day."

Only Connect! is the title of a recent Rupa anthology of Indian and Australian short fiction about “Technology and Us”. It has been edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle, and contains 20 themed short stories.

Also making an appearance is The Race For Arms by Kiran Nagarkar, which is actually an extract from 2006's God's Little Soldier, a novel that managed to outstrip most contemporary works while being far from the author's best book. Some of the world's most sophisticated technology is used to make weapons, and Nagarkar dwells upon this fact at some length. The extract, despite ending quite abruptly, makes some pertinent points about the extent to which the modern-day nation-state can go to build an arsenal of absurd proportions.

"The Saudis seemed to have bought everything in sight including Tornado and Hawk aircrafts. What were they planning to do with all that hardware? It was doubtful whether they had enough trained pilots to fly these highly complex aircrafts. (...) The only reason the Saudis spent such monumental sums of money was because they had it and those planes made them feel like cowboys. Or, to be even more precise, because like most grown-ups, the Saudis too are children. They love toys."

The other bright spots in the collection include Malik Sajad's graphic short Facebooked, about the policing of cyberspace in Kashmir. Sajad's story is particularly relevant because as we saw in the case of Bal Thackeray's death, you can be arrested for a status message that rubs some people the wrong way.

On the whole, this is an enjoyable collection, even though a couple of stories overdo the Internet lingo. (Also, two separate stories make what amounts to the same joke, about Lord Ganesha being the patron saint of technology, on account of his mouse.) Read it and ponder upon where you stand in this quagmire of techno-idiosyncrasies.

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