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VIRTUAL VANITIES
- How to strike a pose on the Intenet

Who are you online? A Bach aficionado plugged into his Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor (BWV 1001), a Joy Goswami fan reciting from Jara Brishtite Bhijechhilo and sipping on an Apple Martini at the same time? Maybe that’s not who you are off-line? But who cares? Online networks, blogs and chat rooms — Orkut, Facebook, hi5, MySpace, WAYN, Blogspot, GTalk and MSN and Yahoo messengers — are the places to show off. The online self may not be absolute fiction, but it is usually slightly cooler, smarter and funnier than its real-life counterpart. A look at a few virtual types, especially from Calcutta, showing off online.

The aantel

The profile: The aantel (the Bengali intellectual, ancient human type, but reinvented online) is a thinker with low tolerance for ordinary humour. His or her picture is likely to be a sepia-tinted snapshot of him or her in a Che Guevara tee reclining under an old ceiling fan. The literature on the profile can be esoteric prose or poetry interspersed with ordinary language — in font size 6.5, or 26. The creatively challenged would rather scrawl phrases borrowed from old-timers Shelley or Jibanananda Das. (But drawing up a boring or cryptic profile is also cool. A blank space, Halloween pumpkin or multi-coloured silhouette of the face as profile picture can do too.)

The aantel is likely to join forums like ‘Calcutta and all its hot-ness’ or the ‘Calcutta alcohol appreciation group’. He straddles ‘Culture Circle of Kolkata’ and ‘Jacuzzi Club of Kolkata’. It’s all about a well-rounded personality. So a self-confessed culture vulture is a member of communities on authors, sudoku, films, chocolates and sapiosexuality (sapiosexuals are people who are apparently turned on by intelligence).

He or she is a cutting-edge bilingual, often writing entries in the Roman script but in high-quality Bengali, using words like akornobistrito (ear to ear) and nihshongshoye (without a doubt). He or she is also likely to be a fan of the Fatarus, a winged, subversive human species created by the author Nabarun Bhattacharya. He is prone to drinking alone at Oly Pub and striking up a conversation with a light-eyed Norwegian chick. Prone to describing friends, a la Sukumar Ray, as “dark, owl-faced and an academic failure”.

Find them in the corner of your GTalk friends list? They are the ones with a witty Shaw/Oscar Wilde/ Calvin and Hobbes/Freud quote as their status message. Content writer Devlina Mitra, 24, has her status message inspired by Douglas Adams: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Likely to say: Wong Kar Wai. Turtles Can Fly. Y Tu Mama Tambien. Oly.

Politics: Liberal, very liberal or libertarian. Doesn’t know too many Indian politicians, though. Unconcern makes for the greatest impact.

Status updates: Can read “Zzzzzzzz” (ennui is boho chic too), complemented by “blank” and “breezy” smileys.

Wouldn’t be caught dead: reading Who Moved Your Cheese.

The chilled out

The profile: They used to come more from Mumbai or Bangalore, but Bong-land is not too far behind. The chilled out are likely to put up hot pictures of themselves as part of their profiles. They are also quick to upload pictures of themselves from last night’s party where they are seen having a good time with people cooler and prettier than them. Dizzy pictures in bizarre positions and angles are cool. Time and place are consciously tagged if clicked at ungodly hours at happening hubs around the city. The next day they are likely to sprinkle their profile with yellow smileys or post messages feigning a hangover, throwing tantrums, crying, sighing or nagging. They would keep their friend count between 205 (less can be trying on your popularity quotient) and 420 (more would mean making yourself too easily available). They repeatedly post comments on friends’ profiles hoping the friends would do the same.

Likely to say: Eeeeehhhh, Aaaaahhh, OMG! or Like Totalllyy! They don’t follow no gramma rulez cuz datz da way 2 make ur page groove n rock! But they have struck the right balance between SMS-ese and traditional English. So it’s okay to write “gimme” and “wanna” but not “gr8” and “2nite”. “B” instead of be and “2” instead of to are fine, but “rom hppns 2 be a gr8 frnd n hs bn der 4 me since 4evr” can pull down the cool factor. They take regular tests to assess “Stylish, smart or social. Which are you?” or “What Drink Are You?” Rum’n’Coke is not funky always. It’s for the aantels at Oly Pub. They swing between Rum and Apple Martini. The chilled swing between Apple Martini and Apple Hookah.

Status updates: Read “I’m like dat cos I swing like dat!!!” or “looking forward to rock the weekend”.

Politics: No.

Will not be caught dead: in Hatibagan.

The rock buff/the rocker

The profile: The picture will be gloomy, angsty. The simpler ones may feature the skull and cross bones, or vampires and angels. The subtle ones will be a flurry of rapid action multiple shots of the rocker’s own hands or fingers, drumming or strumming. There will be the five marijuana leaves pattern. In short, this is Jim Morrison somehow pulling through life in Calcutta. But they may also support online groups like ‘Foundation for the Protection of Swedish Underwear Models’. They will appear online at 3am. Insomniacs rock!

Likely to say: “Shut the f**k up”, “Bring it on b***h!” or “How I wish, how I wish you were here”, after a bad break-up. (For they feel. They see. They do. They know. You would not understand. For they are misunderstood. “For the angst-ridden rocker it may help him to vent all his emotions through dark lyrics and Dark Knight wallpapers. As long as you don’t take it too seriously,” says Ankit Dey, 19.

They confess to having a “thing for tattoos and piercings”. “I just like the pain,” they say. “I am hallu,” they say. “David Bowie’s wife Angie doesn’t find Mick Jagger a sex symbol.” “You haven’t heard Arctic Monkey’s latest? Poor sod!” they may ask, and quote from Rock Street Journal. They haven’t heard the album too.

Politics: Anti-Bush. But they have more to do with spirituality than politics. They are also “agnostic” or “spiritual” or insist “religion is manmade”. They may “believe in God but not in religion”. Or just say: “Whatever.”

Status update: Bored to death. Raging like a bull. Dazed and confused. Or, the ultimate in cool: Just not interested.

Wouldn’t be caught dead: visiting boy band or Mariah Carey sites.

The game bore

The profile: A geek who has no social life. They have all the games on their list. From Bobblehead Basketball to Stunt Dirt Bike, they would do everything to become that adrenaline-pumping junkie they never are in real life. They are likely to stand in their verandah, look exalted, pretend to dive, click themselves and post. Their profiles or blogger IDs can bear names like gamemaestro or Somnath Jumping, with albums tagged Mountain Biking, Lincoln Sky Knights and Not For the Faint Hearted. They indulge in discussions on Sky Sports News Ladies Appreciation Society and Sky Divers Base Jumping and Extreme Sports. When bored they play Typeracer and put up their typing speed for others to see. Of course only if it is something between 55 to 80 words per minute.

Likely to say: Need for Speed ProStreet. God of War. Mass effect. Crysis. Mindjolt games. How about some Word Twist?

Politics: Doesn’t matter

Status update: I think Grand Theft Auto is puro paagol, man!

Wouldn’t be caught dead: Hanging out with a female. Strictly enemy territory!

The food snob

The profile: Can look and behave very much like the aantel. Only, he is into food. He will avoid anything mainstream. Obscurity, they insist, is where great taste lurks. Likely to be part of the shuntki maachh community.

Likely to say: The biryani at Shiraz is over-hyped. Try the biryani at Mezbaan. You know, it’s off Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road? You think Nizam and beef roll are synonymous? Wait till you have the roll from Nafeel at Park Circus. And whatever you say, Oly serves the best beef steak in town. It cures stomach upsets (ota khele pet kharaap shere jaye).

Or, How can I cook spare ribs without balsamic vinegar?

Politics: That of Anthony Bourdain. No reservations.

Status update: The eatery next to Golbari serves almost as good mutton as Golbari.

Wouldn’t be caught dead: at McDonald’s.

The desperate

The profile: Longer than their professional resume. Their “about me” is long, rambling and “deep”. They send hugs, slaps, tequilas, tickles, cows or sheep or simply “run and hide” or “get low” via SuperPoke!, an online equivalent of playing hard to get. They will have testimonials with corny hearts or graphics that say “so and so is a gud friend”. They may even put up results of ‘Which Sexual Position Are You?’, ‘What Kind Of Kisser Are You?’ and ‘How Good Are You In Bed?’ Says Paulami Dey, 26, a content developer: “There was this guy whose friend’s list had only girls. I told him that his list looks like Casanova’s album of conquests. He said he was looking out for only girls in real life.”

Likely to say: Also, “candle light, intelligence, long hair, sarcasm and thrills”.

Politics: Nonsense!

Status updates: They will change their (“mirror cracking!”) profile picture every eight hours. And put up photos of their new shower curtain, green toenails, licence plate of their new car or their annoying neighbour kicking the dog. They will also update their status every half-hour.

Wouldn’t be caught dead: saying they are married.

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