The crowd, the noise, the excitement doesn’t welcome you. It throws open its doors and envelopes around you until you are lost in the heady metallic beat. It numbs your mind but the thrill and excitement slide down your spine. Standing in the centre of all this, swaying in rhythm to the beats is DJ Gia. The denim mini skirt was perched just below the tattoo of an eagle, and her tank top ended perfectly above the silver ring pierced on her belly. She was the soul of the club tonight. The crowd loved her remixes and she felt on top of the world.
“I am DJ Gia” she cried exultantly. “I am going to be the next Indian Idol”
The shrill ringing of the phone brought a flare of undisguised temper on Prerna’s face.
“I could permanently log out of RL. It’s anyways too overrated” she muttered crossly yanking the phone and shouting a hello into it.
“Have you finished your homework?” her mom asked.
“Yes mom” Prerna replied automatically logging out of the virtual world, Second Life where she was DJ Gia. She’d already asked another DJ to cover the night.
Prerna in real life on planet Earth is a seventeen year old class 12 student who would sit for her final board exams in two months time. But in the live-wire, high end life of Second Life, she was a DJ- living her dream in a virtual platform since her real life was completely dominated by her overambitious parents. Imagine two amazingly brilliant parents and two foreign degrees to the older sibling and you have a moving international conference at the breakfast table daily.
Prerna of course is expected to trot the line, preferably in biotechnology. But she wants be a DJ. She wants to apply for the Indian Idol. Futility in taking this dream through has made her an addict to the virtual world where she could lose herself.
“Oh there are so many things that in RL are a pain. Cannot REZ for dinner or for that matter cannot block a person you did not want any contact with, like my mom” Prerna thought disdainfully.
Her mom, every part of Prerna’s life was shaped by her. Dragon mom and dad were both research scientists working at the prestigious biotech lab in the city. Their life revolved around the biochemicals. And in Prerna’s eyes her parents were so involved in the biochemicals, they never knew what happened when those molecules formed cells, then tissues, organs and took the human form with feelings and emotions and expectations.
Her childhood had been an agonizing examination. Solving problems far and beyond her age and reading pages and pages of science. The simple concepts of sitting on mummy’s lap for a hug, the quick hug or shared smiles between parents, getting dirty at the beach or just sitting in pajamas all day on a weekend were alien in their house.
In a vain attempt at gaining her mother’s attention even if it’ll be only wrath, she’d cut off her hair last month. The thick black cascade that fell till her waist was now scissored off to straight layers around her shoulders. Her mother was predictably angry.
What happened? Rats?” she asked
“I I… just felt like a change” Prerna stammered
“From what? Looking human?” her mom wouldn’t call her pretty.
But while she trembled, she secretly loved the rebel. She was so bored of trotting like a puppy and playing ‘fetch’. She even had a boring name for God sake. Prerna – inspiration. How dumb would that look at the Indian Idol platform!
“Well, I am Gia where it counts. In my heart. Tomorrow I’ll record those remixes and I’ll sell my music. One day even in RL they will be popular. Should learn how to livestream music” Prerna muttered to herself as she closed her homework and went to eat her dinner. With her nanny of course.
Only she did not know how to cope with the expectations of her parents in the coming exams. She would never score the marks expected of her. The worrying thought followed her like a faithful puppy well into the night.
3 months later
The room was warm, humid. Overhead a fan circled away trying its best to remove the heaviness of the room. The furniture was typically teenage – stereo system that can blare enough to break glass, keyboard, iPod, a nose ring, crumpled jeans, a lone shoe, Pepsi cans cluttered the floor. Books were strewn across the bed, table and very few lined the neon blue shelf.
On the new revolving, black cushioned chair next to the flat screen computer table that housed a myriad of gadgets, wires, papers and stationery sat Mahesh Rao waiting to shout “clean up this pigsty right now” to his youngest daughter Prerna ….. a daughter who was never going to come back. He had been waiting here for the last forty eight hours. Except when called for the funeral rites, Mahesh had not moved out of this room.
His wife’s grief had been uncontrollable and was currently sedated for the night. Mahesh looked around the empty room and outside the door to his house. He had bought this apartment, a three bedroom life on second floor in Koramangala, Bangalore, around thirteen years back and he still had two more years of the home loan to pay. According to Mahesh, their life with his wife Sujatha, daughters Sneha and Prerna had been a typically middle class one. With high expectations, little understanding and constant bills that paralyzed the spirit interrupted by a few patches of family fun, holidays on his LTA and Sundays spent at the Cubbon park.
He had wanted a better life for his children. He had expected them to excel in academics to raise high in their lives. He had expected discipline in the household to help their children through the tough jungle of life when they grow older.
Suddenly a chill went down his spine. “Am I living my aspirations and failures through my children? Was that why Prerna did not want to live with me anymore?” Demons plagued Mahesh’s mind as Sneha, his eldest came carrying a plate of food.
“Pa” she said, “Have some dinner” she had come home immediately from Delhi where she attending a conference. One look at her shattered parents and she put her grief in cold storage and began managing the house, receiving guests, helping with the funeral arrangement to the extent women are allowed in a Hindu household and a great support to her father.
“Did I push her to her grave Sneh?”Mahesh voiced the greatest fear and guilt to his favorite child. Sneha was the first woman Mahesh truly fell in love with, and it was love at first sight. The minute the nurse handed him his new born daughter, the mop of curly black hair, huge eyes and a puckered mouth smiling in sleep, tugged at his heart and he was hooked for life. She was his greatest joy, pride and the reason to aspire.
“Pa, you have been the best dad. Prerna had typical adolescent issues. She was just too weak to stand up to and too impatient to wait for the phase to pass out” Sneha had always sided with her father. She had also followed her parents’ footsteps to become a junior scientist in biotechnology with masters from US.
“No Sneh, I probably expected a lot from her. From both of you. Like your mother says, it’s a good thing we have arranged marriages in India, else nobody would have married me.” Deep down Mahesh knew his children were more than just his joy and pride. They were his lost aspirations, they were his last chance at success and they cemented his marriage with Sujatha. If not for the kids, Sujatha and Mahesh would have separated long ago. For other than the love for their research the couple had very little in common.
“Pa, you have not pushed, only encouraged. And you have met most of our demands. Sometimes as children we don’t understand your investments or debts or any financial obligation. We know only to ask and blame and sulk if those demands are not met. I’ve grown out of those stages; Prerna still had a few more years”. Sneha was a balanced girl who had seen her fair share of academic demands in her house. She had decided very early in her life that there were only two kinds of people: winners and losers. She was a winner. Prerna obviously was a loser.
She saw her dad was still holding the crumpled sheet of papers that was found in Prerna’s fist, the top had a tear where they had to pry it out of her rigor mortis set knuckles. There had been a wealth of information in that. Stuff which her parents and Sneha knew nothing about.
“I didn’t even know there were such virtual life sites available” cried Mahesh. He did not even have a Facebook account.
“Is theft on a virtual platform equal to real theft?” Sneha asked. Prerna had apparently created some excellent music and had sold them on Second Life. But some guy from Greece had stolen them and now claimed as his and he currently owns them all. To top it she had swiped her father’s credit card to buy Linden dollars, the accepted currency in Second Life to enter into a business in selling music, one which had back fired too. In addition to all these losses, she had performed very badly in her exams and was frightened of the upcoming results. Hence she decided to end her life.
Sneha remembered how her mother had howled in anguish. Not the silent tears she had expected, but large wails, with sniffles and hiccups, the kind her mother would have considered inhuman.
“I never bothered with what she wanted. I killed her.” Her mother repeatedly cried.
“We should have listened to her, allowed her to her music. Instead I treated her like a mould waiting to be cast. And look at the way my plans turned out” it went on and on. From self pity, loathing, guilt to anger at the Greek thief and the whole social networking platform in general. It escalated to a point where her pulse shot up and she had to be sedated.
“I would give anything to be able to hug her close and listen to her music just once” Sujata’s last words before the sedative took its effect tore Mahesh’s heart.
“How much money did she take?” Sneha asked.
“Around Rs 40,000. Guess she had to pay in Dollars and later convert to Linden currency. What does it matter, nothing is more precious than Prerna. And I’ve failed my own daughter.” Mahesh slumped on the chair.
“When did she realise she’d lost the money? And shouldn’t there be some kind of protection for kids? After all she’s not 18 yet” Sneha probed again.
“The evening before Prerna decided a box full of drugs tasted better than chocolates. And I asked a friend about the rules. Apparently there used to be a teenage grid on Second Life till Dec 2010. They have closed that and allowed kids above 16 to be part of the main grid. And more importantly like my friend said we don’t know what was Prerna’s true identity in that virtual world. She would surely not be a school student there and we don’t know anything about her ID” her Pa said.
“We can hack into her mails and stuff.” Sneha said.
“What would be the point child? It’ll not bring her back” Mahesh was suddenly bone tired.
She silently went to her Pa and hugged him as silent tears flowed down her cheeks and her mind echoed with sounds of the past.
“You and your success freak attitude will one day regret torturing me”
“Sneh, I don’t want to do things fast and best…. Please understand”
“Sneh, I really love remix. I can make a life in this. Trust me. Please”