The rabble, from L mobile vulgus, the fickle crowd. Origin of ‘mob’ and ‘flashmob’. As adjective, denotes wandering state of a traditionally fixed object, such as a hospital, post office or telephone.
These days, Kapil Sibal is jetting all over to release his maiden volume of poetry. It’s not exactly Jejuri, but it’s doing well in the shops. It is accessible and besides, it has curiosity value. Why’s a lawyer and minister writing poetry? And why is he punching it out on his mobile phone? Sibal even reads from his phone, rather than his book.
But he isn’t the first mobile poet. There is this Bengali SMS poem involving Mamata Banerjee, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the Nano. Obscenity law bars its reproduction here but essentially, it says that size matters. Earlier, in 2001, the Guardian launched an SMS poetry contest. More than 7,000 people sent in seriously terse verse.
Like haiku, which must contain 17 syllables, text poetry is limited to 160 characters, the maximum length of an SMS. ‘it splits my @oms/ wen he :-)s @ me,’ ended an entry noted for SMS shorthand innovation. The winning entry began: ‘txtin iz messin,/ mi headn’me englis,/ try2rite essays,/ they all come out txtis.’
Last year, the Irish State Examination Commission complained that students, accustomed to mangling language in SMSes, were losing the power to communicate. Whatever they write “comes out txtis”. Something similar must be happening in India, thanks to the mobile revolution.
Resistance is useless, because we’ve already lost the power to communicate. Airline cabin crews are now inarticulate in all languages. The safety instructions before take-off are couched in some inhuman pidgin. The stewardess’s mime routine is easier to follow.
However, we should be cautious. Indians ride every wave of mobile fashion, changing phones more frequently than trouser style. Mumbai saw a flashmob just months after a Harper’s editor invented the phenomenon in Manhattan in 2001. A mob at the Crossroads mall played strung-out stockbrokers and did the garba. Then Martin Waelde, director of the Kolkata Max Mueller Bhavan, launched the world’s first mobile theatre.
He invited people for a ‘performance’ at the historic Star Theatre, handed them cellphones and ushered them to the exit instead of a seat. Guided by a voice on the phone, they became protagonists of a journey through Kolkata, seeing it anew. Maybe, Waelde should have misguided them, too. Take a wrong turn in Kolkata and you could easily step through a wormhole into an alternate reality.
Now, who knows what great things the 3G iPhone will bring, and Google’s awesome Android system is still in the offing. So hang on a second while I Twitter this developing story. L8r, g8r, im bzy.
(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)