Sunday, December 05, 2021

Notes on an online and offline friendship

See below for some pictures with my friend Tipu Purkayastha (who was passing through Delhi on his way back to the US) at the Khan Market Big Chill last week – grim-visaged fate reserved an empty table for us right next to a poster of one of our favourite films (the title of which is also well-suited to the masked world that Covid made). In pic 2, Tipu, most erudite and witty of film scholars, holds debut books by two sharp young writers – Shrayana Bhattacharya's Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh and Uday Bhatia's Bullets Over Bombay. (The Khan Market sleeping hound in the frame is not accidental.)

Funny how this plague has had different ways of affecting relationships. Tipu and I first began corresponding around 15 years ago when he started following my blog, being as nerdy about Old Hollywood (and a few other types of cinemas) as I was. In the following years I met him 4-5 times during his India visits (running theme: he would email me each time there was a big Barnes & Noble discount on Criterion DVDs, asking if there were any specific ones I wanted to buy; I would send a list, and he would bring them along on his next Delhi trip). While those meetings over coffee were always nice, there was also a rushed component to them – a sense of “this is an obligatory catch-up in a small window of time and we’ll chat briefly, ogle those lovely DVD covers, discuss the disc Extras, then say bye”.

But over the past year and a half, Tipu has been a regular presence at my online film discussions and courses, and in a weird way I feel like we got to spend more “quality time” during this period: through the Zoom sessions and the subsequent email exchanges where he shared trivia and wisecracks with the group. (He usually looks a bit drowsy during the sessions since most of them happen at 5 or 6 AM California time, but still diligently shows up for most of them, and makes sure to say goofy things on chat every now and again – “Shoulder Shoulder, meethi baatein bolkar”, for instance, when Lara nibbled on my shoulder to the delight of the participants.) Zoom windows are understandably seen as a less-than-ideal way to meet friends, and the video fatigue of this period is a very real phenomenon – but for me this has felt like one of those cases where online meetings have *strengthened* a friendship. When I met Tipu today in the so-called real world, it felt more relaxed than our previous real-world meetings; like we were catching up after being in regular touch for a while...


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