I work in a digital newsroom as the Social Media Editor. You know what that means? I stalk people on Facebook, I cannot ever miss a trending hashtag on Twitter, I have memorized the names of the famous Redditors in India and I spend half my day watching YouTube videos. This is my job. It also means I am almost always online. I wake up in the middle of the night to breaking news alerts and to check Twitter timelines. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is real, and I know it.
I had once lost my phone. I could manage to be in the no-phone zone for about three hours. I had to immediately buy one on my credit card (it was the end of the month) because my life almost depends on that itty bitty device.
The phone that I have been using for two years has never been switched off before.
Two weeks before my 27th birthday, I had a plan. Probably influenced by a friend who has never celebrated his birthday, I decided I wanted to run away. From all the madness -- the "let's go and party", the attempt to make sure you don't forget to dance when that Taylor Swift song plays, the repeated shots that are followed by a solemn oath of "I will never drink again" when you wake up the next morning to a terrible headache and a year full of regrets. I thought to myself -- why have I never celebrated my birthday with myself?
This was my chance. I immediately called my childhood friend who lives in Bangalore, and we decided on going to Coorg, to NOT celebrate my birthday.
Two more friends joined in and we drove for about 7 hours to reach Chettimani, an hour away from the popular destination Madikeri.
There, we got ourselves a room at a homestay right in the middle of a forest.
There was barely any network on my phone. So, I decided to switch it off and keep it inside my bag. The phone that I have been using for two years has never been switched off before. Yes, sometimes its battery gets drained and I often have to restart it when it acts up, but I have never voluntarily switched off my phone.
I knew there would be missed birthday calls and a bunch of upset friends, but this was to be a birthday with myself.
Once the phone -- my biggest distraction -- was dealt with, I pulled out a copy of Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski and sat under a tree. A jackfruit hung a couple of inches above my head.
There was no noise. Except for the crickets and the birds competing with each other in a who's-the-loudest contest. At first, it bothered me. The crickets were winning the competition. And, I thought I should plug in my headphones and listen to the Beatles instead. I decided against it after a while when the noise became friendlier. They started to sound more welcoming, probably after a brief discussion over if they were okay with an intruder in their land.
This was the moment I was missing out on while I was trying to not miss out on anything.
The best thing about these non-city places are their people. A young man, the caretaker of the homestay, brought me a bowl of fried pork and a cup of coffee.
I sat there for hours listening to the birds and the crickets, reading my book and munching on the Coorgi pork. I switched off, completely. I had no track of time -- well, I don't wear a watch and I had no phone. This was the moment I was missing out on while I was trying to not miss out on anything.
A few hours later, it started to rain.
I sat inside the little seating area outside our mud cottage and continued reading my book. There were fireflies and fluffy crawlies for distraction. A little later, a wet dog came and sat next to me. I continued reading my book, and eating fried pork.
For nearly 24 hours, I stopped all my thoughts. I didn't want to check who wished me on Facebook, didn't want to check-in, didn't want to Instagram this picturesque place I was sitting in, did not want to WhatsApp anyone about how I was feeling at that moment.
My batch-mate from college who went on the trip with me had the perfect way to summarise the feeling. She sat there reading her book, when she looked up and suddenly said, "It's the joy of missing out. Let's call it JOMO."
Nothing happened in those 24 hours. And, I wasn't bored.
The next day, while going to the airport, I switched on my phone. There were about 200 odd WhatsApp messages, about 12 texts and a couple of Facebook notifications. I started responding to each of them.
"How was your birthday?" a friend asked on WhatsApp. "The quietest one, ever," I responded.