Paromita Vohra: Digital forget-me-nots

By  Paromita Vohra | Posted  29-Jan-2017

Representation picture
Representation picture

Last week, that most dreaded thing happened. My hard disk crashed. Also, I hadn't backed it up since April 2014. I know. I have no business sounding so calm about it. But. I admit I brought this on myself. Like someone in a doomed romance, who thinks they'll get out just before endangering their hearts by falling in love, I thought I'd back up soon, before something happens. As in romance, so in back-ups.

Fifteen years ago, I backed up diligently on those rewritable CDs (I'm not afraid to reveal my age). Computers were not new, but the concept of work being done only on computers was relatively so and we didn't trust it so blindly. Now, it is the norm, part of our lives. Correction. It is our lives.

Hard disks store work, your CV as installation art. They store joy — pictures of you goofing around with your niece, birthday parties, holidays, scenes from your windows. They store vanity — the series of selfies tried out till you get a perfect one, applications detailing why you should receive awards and grants. They store fancies – poems and pictures you've picked up on the internet like shells on a tropical isle.

They store love stories — letters saved, read and re-read, confessions written but never sent, poems composed but never shared. Ghosts of friendships lost and deepend — a friend's novel you were supposed to read and give feedback to (but never did); their confusing romantic correspondence for your analysis (duly given: leave her. Now).

They retain stern records of the mistakes you've made, the rejections you've received. They store your guilty pleasures, writing rhythms and secret fantasies, your attempts at self-improvement, the liberation of your senses, the soundtrack of your life. They store excel sheets, those manful talismans against chaos: schedules and budgets, plans, lists of belongings, your life represented as neat little soldiers in rows and columns guarding against collapse and confusion.

But those little soldiers can't really stop Humpty Harddisk from falling off the wall and crashing. You alone are responsible for this. Everyone knows, that unlike black bucks, hard disks die not of natural causes but your neglect.

Many long suffering friends, who know the dreamer behind the doer that I am, exclaimed "I told you so!" That's true. They had. They felt I wasn't behaving with enough
despair. Had I not learned my lesson then?

It's true. I was curiously calm about this catastrophe. "Maybe you're depressed," said one. "I think you're in shock" said another." Maybe. Mostly, I felt a sense of release — from a deadline in the offing (I am that shallow adolescent your mother warned you about). But also from the sheer weight of holding onto so much memory, to all the things done, not done, to be done in those folders marked Stuff, Misc, To Sort, To Read.

Memories long to change from time to time. Computer memory almost negates the idea of loss, asks us to be alert to everything we were and are, disallows the dream state of forgetfulness, in which memories come and go.There was a certain freedom in being able to let go, if only for a while. Soon I will wake up to the meanings of loss, and data retrieval doctors may yet remind me of all the boxes still unchecked.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com