In the way that some cultures turn to rudaalis — professional mourners — to ease their goodbyes to the recently departed, we turn to our favourite bloggers. After momentous events we go online to see what our good man or woman has said. Mommy blogger, geek, scenery-chewing diva or girl-about-town — there is someone out there who has the mot juste, the words taken right out of our mouths expressed better than we ever could. We look to them to soothe ourselves into quietness. So, when the Mumbai terror struck, while the television shrieked, the option of navigating your own way online into some degree of understanding held more than ordinary appeal.

A few of Mumbai’s best-known bloggers (Sonia Faleiro, Amit Verma and Chandrahas Choudhury) were out together (in a obvious reflection of the demographics targeted) in Colaba and blogged about an uneasy night holed up in a hotel, unable to return home. Others, previously unknown, became valuable overnight by live-blogging reports and images over breathless days with varying degrees of insight.

Vinu Ranganathan, a 2005 Berkeley engineering graduate, grabbed his new camera and left his Colaba home as soon as he heard the blasts. Ranganathan’s excellent photographs have made their way into every corner of the foreign press. Ranganathan was joined by dozens of people who blogged or twittered. It is difficult to take an activity called tweeting or twittering seriously, but Twitter (blogging mini-posts less than 140 characters long) became extraordinarily active during these three days. According to one estimate, 25 users were posting information, rumour and opinion every minute. Enough activity to generate an unsubstantiated meta-rumour that the Indian police had ordered people to stop ‘tweeting’.) Enough activity to enrage at least one hostage, because his terrified messages to the outside world were being posted online within minutes, endangering his life further.

But in the best tradition of blogging in times of conflict, several writers offered alternative viewpoints or moving accounts. A reliable culture-vulture, Anonandon wrote: “As journos declared that the city was under siege, everyone who wasn’t within earshot of grenades and automatic weapons shopped, went out for dinner, met for drinks. Everyone within a certain income bracket knows someone who was in the Taj or the Trident but most have gathered to exchange stories of how they themselves could have been there but weren’t. Those below that bracket are as perturbed as the socialite set was when the trains were bombed in 2006 — fleetingly sympathetic but largely unperturbed.” Chapati Mystery, who often blogs about Islam, had a skeptical ear cocked at the ready punditry about Muslims.

It is unsurprising to see responses from bloggers such as Peter Griffin (Zigzackly), who mobilise resources in every disaster. But Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy (The Compulsive Confessor and author of You are Here) who is rarely political, too grumpily noted her disenchantment and that her friends are voting this government out. Cozy and naive as she sounds, the level of political activity online right now is unprecedented.

On the Internet you see what you want to see. An obvious rallying point has been the hatred of terrorists or Pakistanis. On the once moderate but now unabashedly anti-Muslim forums of the military news site Bharat Rakshak, for some inexplicable reason, Kasav has been labelled a ‘girly pig.’ A creepy invitation- only group (at this time it has 87 members) has formed on Facebook to discuss what people would like to do with Kasav. This, of course, is mild compared to the incoherent demands to torture Kasav that can be heard on that street many cross to get away from: Rediff’s discussion boards. Elsewhere, firm critics of censorship are unabashedly deleting hate comments.

Almost as many online groups seem to be rallying around their dislike of the media coverage of the attacks. A Facebook group demanding that NDTV’s reporter Barkha Dutt be taken off air already has 2,467 members. Fangroups have formed to praise the late Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Hemant Karkare.

The silence of the Thackerays has been noted angrily everywhere, but few icons have acquitted themselves admirably. Amitabh Bachchan infamously ended his November 27 post by saying that he was going to sleep with his gun under his pillow. But an embarrassing note had already been struck when he said that he refused television channels who “were luring him to speak for the people to maintain their calm”.

He called it disgusting and said that he would be rather ordered to go fight where the “action” is. This mixture of survivalist fortification, conspiracy and warmongering is a trend online, with the upper-middle class suddenly encountering a phenomenon that they can’t manage, ignore or bribe.

On the Internet we ‘forward’ ourselves into quietness. One of the most forwarded objects this week (other than India TV’s moving and disturbing ‘interview with the terrorists’) is a piece about CST station written by Gnani Sankaran, a Chennai writer.

The most astonishing meme of the week has been the ready-to-be-stuffed paperbag slogan, “Enough is Enough”. Shobhaa Dé yelled it, NDTV picked up and ran with it. Dé blogs: ‘Enough is enough’ is now more than my ‘quotable quote’, it needs to become a movement.” It is a particularly appealing slogan in its implication that tolerance has been, in fact, the norm so far. For every enthusiast, there is someone else asking where this urgency was before this attack on a rich vein of privilege. “Should these imperious syllables calculated to shut off debate be received with unquestioning compliance,” asks blogger Nasir Khan. But 15,000 people have joined the Enough is Enough Facebook community. Another miniwave is campaigning to amend Section 49 (O) of the Election Rules of India to make neutral votes possible.

One observer noted with amusement that a friend’s Facebook status message (‘will not wear a white t-shirt’) turned into a huge multi-party argument about her joking about protests while the beast was slouching closer. For those who think the imperatives of social networking sites are perverted simulacrums of the real world, these interactions may seem, at best, uninteresting and, at worst, narcissistic. But one may be too quick to condemn.

For those whom the Internet came late, online communities are probably best understood in terms of the world outside. But many young Indians first experienced community online. They are now taking their learnings from living online offline. A telling comment on Mumbai-based Ingrid Srinath’s blog goes thus: “community skills and ideas … make individuals realise that they are the first caretaker and good neighbour, not the police. It’s worked for Linux, for Google, for Obama, Live Earth and Second Life: we know that people can and do come together, online and in person, without the burden of hierarchy, more positively than ever before.” For these young people, the Internet is their only experience of altruism, of collective action, of sloganeering and war-cries. They believe, even if they have never heard Clay Shirky’s phrase, that ‘The Internet runs on love.’

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