Sunil R Nair's Chatroom Blues is a novel that explores Internet chat and the thrill of anonymity. Sunil spent eight years in Rediff and Indiatimes chat rooms. He was fascinated by the anonymous interaction among chatters and at the discovery of their multiple identities.
Sunil found that people, even the ones who are reclusive offline, are social animals online. Chatroom Blues is based on real characters though the story combines fiction and fact. Some conversations are partly real. Online characters inspire others. Conversations make the novel.
Resmi Shaji cornered Nair for a quick chat. Excerpts:
It seems the number of people chatting with a good purpose like building a friendship or discussing important issues is less compared with the number of people looking for cyber sex. Why is this so?
Less than 10 per cent of the people on chat are there for some good clean fun. The rest are there for cyber sex. Let us face it. Probably hectic lives do not permit enough time to socialise.
The next best option seems to be chat. On chat, one can live in a fantasy world. The kind of fantasy one would not dare to live in real life. In the recent past a lot of fantasy has poured out into the real world too but my opinion is that the people involved are responsible adults. We have no right to preach to them. It is normal.
Manav, the main character in your novel, goes out to meet every other person he chats with? Have you met any chatter in real life? What was the experience like?
I have met several chatters. I think they form a microcosm of society. Some have turned out to be good friends over the years and others have left a mark. The experience varied from being disappointed to being happy to have met a great human. Unlike Manav in Chatroom Blues, I met only the ones whom I found interesting enough. There have been several cases of affairs and frauds that have taken place due to chat. It's all a part of life.
Is it appropriate and safe to meet strangers known only through chat rooms, without being sure of their identity?
It definitely is not safe to meet anyone after spending 10 minutes chatting with him or her. But if there is a degree of comfort, there is no harm in meeting at a public place.
Tell us about your personal experience with multiple identities. Have you chatted a single person assuming different IDs?
I once chatted with a 46-year-old man as myself and then as a 14-year-old schoolgirl. Over weeks I pretended to be a girl and he asked me a lot of weird questions. Finally, he gave me his cell number and we decided to meet.
I went over and found a kind corporate looking man waiting for a girl old enough to be his daughter. I do not know whether he was a closet paedophile but the thought scared me. There must be several men and women out there with a lot of dark thoughts in their minds. The same man used to discuss with me stocks and shares and give me information about business, when I was myself. This amazing incident cleared a lot of questions in my mind about what chat is for many people.
The characters in your novel don't form a single friendship. We have heard of people marrying after meeting online. Do you think such marriages and friendships are built on fantasies?
Manav does not make permanent friends on chat. The reason is there for the reader to find out. I know a few people who have fallen in love after meeting in chat rooms. And I know of a few affairs that have led nowhere. The options are limitless. When there are no guarantees in marriages that take place after ritual parent interference, what can one say about marriages that takes place through chatting? Maybe in time this is the only way people will meet and get to know each other.
What precautions would you suggest people chatting with strangers?
Never give out your true identity till you are sure what or whom you are getting involved with. Otherwise it is not dangerous to get to know people on chat.
If given a chance, what would you like to change about the chat rooms?
When chatting came to India, there were just a few rooms and few things that people could do. Now there are voice chats and Web cams. Gizmos are making chatting a complex affair. I wish chatting were simple and fun as it used to be.