Amongst a lot of the things I missed this week while being hyper-stressed about my exams was the solar halo that appeared today in Kolkata’s sky. It was, no doubt, very beautiful; in the photographs I saw later, it seemed almost ethereal, like something out of a fairytale prophecy that foretells the birth of a king. But upon first encountering it on my virtual newsfeed, my heart sank.
It was not because I’d missed seeing something so beautiful but because I’d failed to capture it for my Instagram account.
Part of it was what I call the ‘regret of the mundane’.
Sometimes, when I miss out on certain experiences, I’m struck by the idea that there I was, doing mundane everyday things while something so extraordinary, perhaps literally once-in-a-lifetime, was happening just out of the reach of my senses. The unfairness of the intergalactic coin-toss that seems to determine such experiences always gets to me. But this time it was more than that.
I need to explain that I take my Instagram account very seriously.
It’s not for the reasons most people do: express their passion, promote their work, gain a higher number of followers or something similar, but because that account presents the concentrated essence of all that I find beautiful in my lived surroundings. There is a lot of ugliness in this world. Sometimes, when I’m fed up with the arbitrary bloodshed that seems characteristic of human existence on this planet, I take to Instagram to find a sense of beauty again, to locate a sense of balance and restore my faith that the primary actions of human beings are not destruction-oriented but based on the creation of beautiful things.
Instagram has taught me to find beauty around my existence; I now notice the way the sun gleams out from behind a swaying curtain of curled leaves, how the shadows move and race on the ground on a windy day, the starkness of the red gulmohar against a bare blue sky. I see how the trees frame the world and the branches scrape the bowl of the earth. I seize beauty in the momentary glimpse of a world that seems Other, when my reality fragments into shattered pieces of individual splendor.
So yes, I love Instagram and I love what it represents and what it can be. Somehow I’m able to cut through the mundane and the petty bullshit that is typical of most social media platforms. (I think it has something to do with how people talk less on it.)
But if one’s first reaction on seeing a thing of beauty is to regret the fact one could not tear it away from its moment and put it up on what is, ultimately, just a social media site enamoured with frivolousness and the self-conscious conceit of humankind, is it time to pause and reevaluate the kind of effect it has had on my life?
I did not want to see the rainbow for itself or for its existence. I simply wanted to use its presence to validate mine. I wanted to join the chorus of people posting about it online and say, “I, too, was there.”
Social media is not inherently bad (duh).
Any kind of social interaction results in, and is arguably the result of, this need: to be there and to let others know that you were ‘in on it’. It’s a need that has always existed among human beings. It’s just that through social media, it spreads very rapidly. It is strangely infectious. The very existence of social media capitalizes on it.
That’s why we need to pause and think when this odd regret presents itself: are we getting too wrapped up in the kind of frenzy of belonging and of showing off that belonging as a validation of one’s self that social media can create?
It’s okay to be on social media, it’s okay to want to be there. But once you begin to forget how this need is mostly just froth and not the substance of your life, once you start to regret missing the moment not for the missed enjoyment but for a missed chance to join in the chorus of “I was there”, it’s time to take a step back.
I’m still going to continue documenting the beauty in life on Instagram. I’m still going to find meaning in what is essentially, according to the common narrative, a meaningless expression of the collective vanity of humankind.
Now I’ll just remember to do it with the pinch of salt it deserves.
The lovely collection of images was donated by the talented Mr Amrit Paul.