Representational image | Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Representational image | Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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We went to the same school, but we certainly all went to different WhatsApp universities.

On 30 January, a forward showed up on my school WhatsApp group.

“The biggest kalsarpi who was responsible for making so many men viklang and women the victim of rapes died on this day… God’s  listened to the prayers of Hindus and made end game for the biggest butcher of the 20th century Mohandas k. Gandhi.”

I quit the group that day. As did a few others. I didn’t leave because someone who went to school with me was sick enough to post that message celebrating Gandhi’s assassination. I didn’t quit the group because this was just a shade removed from the Hindu Mahasabha leader trying to grab national eyeballs with a repugnant stunt, firing an air gun at an effigy of Mahatma Gandhi.

I left the WhatsApp group because too many of us stayed quiet or tried to lighten the mood by posting a Pappu joke or a picture of a scantily clad woman. I left the group because a friend I respected told the ones complaining to “chill” so that there could be some “peace in the group”.  Just ignore, they said. I couldn’t. We took great pride in the values our school had supposedly instilled in us. One of those, I hoped, was in calling out shit when it stank. On the other hand, I should have known that a good Indian education mostly teaches us the value of keeping our heads down and our mouths firmly shut. Good schools don’t teach us to rock boats, even WhatsApp boats.

The school WhatsApp group is a most curious beast. I joined it with some trepidation, feeling as if I was being sucked into a time machine back to a world I had long left behind.  I was no longer the boy the rest of them remembered and I wasn’t sure what I had in common with the men they had become. I worried we would wallow in memories of what we did in Class 4A. I feared being irritated by cheery ‘Good Morning’ messages with nodding flowers, R-rated Playboy jokes about girlfriends who put out and wives who don’t, and stock market gyan.

All of that was there.


Also read: It is not just Narendra Modi, all of India is obsessed with good morning texts


A school WhatsApp group can feel like a Neverland for middle-aged Peter Pans still trapped in about the same hormonal frustration as they were at age 15.  But it was still rather nice to encounter people we had not seen or heard of since school, to catch up with their lives in far corners of the world. It was fun to encounter classmates we’d never hung out much with in school and discover that they were genuinely nice helpful people. It was convenient to organise meet-ups when someone came to town from America or Australia. We pulled each other’s legs. We argued politics. We tried to help teachers who had fallen on hard times. We bugged the doctors in the group for medical help. We helped each other out. School loyalty can run strong.

But a school WhatsApp group is very different from other groups that are bound together by a common interest. We are bound together by a common history, a history that certainly defined us, but still a very old history. We called ourselves Friends Forever, but unlike most friends, we had little in common other than a school tie.

Every WhatsApp group comes with usual suspects. There is the Relentless Forwarder who spends all day forwarding things – jokes, news articles, conspiracy theories, fake news. The Relentless Forwarder forwards, and having forwarded moves on. Then there is the Lurker. The Lurker rarely posts but reads everything and occasionally pops up to say “Happy Birthday”. The Silent One has the group on mute and only checks it when stuck in traffic in an Uber or sitting in the toilet. The Cheerleader is usually the most affable member. That’s the gung-ho person who keeps trying to rally the troops and organise a get-together with drinks. There’s always a Shit Stirrer whose goal it is to needle someone and stir up controversy just because things are getting boring. Of course, there’s the Group Bore who posts long pedantic messages, which no one has time to read. The Head Hunter goes to extraordinary lengths to track down long-lost schoolmates and add them to the group even as the rest of the group wonders who’s that guy. And then there is the Arsonist. The Arsonist’s job is to lob fireballs into the group, usually in the form of such way-out paranoid conspiracy theories, you wonder whether you really all went to the same school together.

In school, the Arsonist would be relegated to the fringe. But in a WhatsApp group there was no fringe. I post, therefore I am. And the more you post, the more real you are. It can be invigorating to get outside your echo chamber, to hear the opinions of people whose views are unlike yours. There can be real impassioned free-for-all debate. But there can also be out-and-out bigotry because in the encrypted playground of a school WhatsApp group we feel we can all let our hair down and expose our truest colours.

That’s when you realise those lynching videos, the fake BBC polls, the spurious Mark Tully quotes about Narendra Modi, they are just not being spread to the gullible, semi-educated in provincial towns. They are being consumed and forwarded with gusto by people just like you. And when confronted with a fact-check they shrug and say, ‘So what if BBC didn’t conduct that poll, the Congress is still corrupt, isn’t it?’ It might well be, but that’s not the point. You realise we went to the same school, but we certainly all went to different WhatsApp universities. It’s as if we had scattered all over the world and then suddenly the WhatsApp group had found us and sucked us all back into a classroom except we no longer fit behind our desks.


Also read: That rumour you read on WhatsApp can be deadly


My friends said quitting isn’t the answer. One should stay and stand one’s ground. The silent majority surely don’t agree with messages that celebrate the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, even those who have their own issues with the old man. However, that’s the problem, whether in a school WhatsApp group or the country. The silent majority stays silent.

This morning when I woke up to an uncharacteristically quiet WhatsApp icon I felt a strange sense of liberation. I don’t have to be friends forever with anyone just because we wore the same uniform once. We’d always have that history and it would always be precious. But it didn’t need to be artificially grafted in the hothouse of a WhatsApp group.

I’d finally left school. And it would be OK.

Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.

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46 Comments Share Your Views

46 COMMENTS

  1. This article resonated so strongly with me. I’m glad to have read this . I now know I am not alone or an absolute minority in the way I feel.

  2. Now you know why people quit reading The Print, the trash that eulogizes Pappu and Monkey Mamta even as it rants against His Excellency The Prime Minister Narendrabhai ModiJi Esq.

    Your schoolmates will equally feel liberated by your exit, genius… 😀😀😀

  3. Such nonsense messages used to appear in my family group until I spoke up. The frequency of it has gone down now. Quitting is not as great as you make it sound. Tell the person why the message is a net negative for the society.

  4. Mr.Roy,
    I have had the selfsame thoughts for a long time. But, for want of litererary prowess, and perhaps patience, I couldn’t give form or utterance to them.
    You could have stayed on in the group. After all, it takes men of all
    shades and hues to make the world.

  5. Hi,
    Decent points get lost behind the tirade of your disillusionment. What I hear is your expectation that all of you moulded by the same school will likely have similar value systems and it has come as a rude shock to you that it’s not true.
    Comes down to the usual cost-benefit decision. I would say, stay there and take a stand but it’s your phone, so it’s your call. Just be a little less conflicted about it.
    Also, may be worth your while to consider that life can work some people over so good that it leaves them bitter. Maybe try not to judge very harshly….

  6. I also feel like quitting most school, college and family groups but I end up confronting the idiots most of the time. I am just labeled a Congressi or an anti national. Most recently I was called British sympathizer.

  7. Dear Sandip, We have WhatsApp group like this…..and we take everything in our stride…because ..we once wore a school badge together !!! We do not want to shape our friends like us..we quarrel and we fight…and at the end discover us back in those school days…and see each other as kids with promise in each one’s eyes. Its sad that you consider your school days and your friends to be a liability now that you’ve grown up…and memories of class 4A is a bother to you. You must be a very sad serious soul and I sympathize with you.

    • That’s not the issue Arijit. The issue is that if you call your (so-called) school friend ‘a fool” (in a light vein) for having a ludicrous opinion, your (so called) friend will NOT take it lightly anymore just like the old school days. You can sense rigidity on both sides. People easily get hurt with age, and the group dynamics is a catalyst (putting one on the defensive and the fragile ego cannot take it). Honestly, that is NO fun. My true friends sweared at me (abey gadhe!!), they still swear at him and will swear in future. That’s the liberty that I have allowed them; I won’t mind. And if one cannot take my light hearted knock knock, that’s NOT my friend and I might as well stay away from the undercurrent of toxicity and one-up-manship that he/she displays.

  8. My dear Mr. Roy, ironically, the thinking and attitude underlying your article is precisely the reason people find themselves liberated by social media. If you don’t enjoy being in a group, great, step out, feel liberated, find your silence, find your peace. If you go a gathering where you do not feel comfortable, by all means, leave. The difficulty arises when you would like to be in a group, but at the same time want the group to be like you (or within ‘limits’ as defined by you). Sadly my friend, the world does not quite work like that. And since there is little that can be done to control social media (unlike more traditional media), you’re naturally disappointed, and may I say, even feeling disempowered. Your frustration is therefore totally understandable. Had you simply expressed it as this, your article would have been fine. But when you get into sermonizing and have the arrogance to say that “this is the liberation that all Indians need”, that’s pushing it. This is precisely the root cause of the increasing ‘resistance’ to such a haughty I’m-so-high-up-on-the-moral-scale-while-all-these-ignorant-people-have-their-heads-in-the-gutter-below attitude. But who am I to say? To each their own liberation. I hope you enjoy the silence. But when you find peace, I suggest you rejoin the group.

    • Beautifully expressed. Though to be honest, I too left my school group a couple of years back. (Wink!!). Though some close ones insisted a few times that I rejoin but I prefer my cocoon. I occasionally get out of it to comment on some great articles on THE PRINT and ONLY ON THE PRINT.

  9. Mr.Sandip Roy, somebody doesn’t have to post what you think is a vulgar message about Gandhi for you to quit. You could have been turned off by the very psychology involved in starting a whatsapp group. By the way, there were authentic reports that Gandhi used to sleep naked with his niece’s daughter? Weren’t you sickened by the act???

  10. This is the story of each one of us caught between nostalgia and reality. The people we knew have changed and so have we.The sudden surge of religious messages and right wing jingoism is nauseating. Articulate. Well Researched. Thought stirring!
    Keep writing:)

    • Very true. While one feels happy at the success of old schoolmates, it is extremely discouraging and disturbing to see what many of them have turned into. Offloading fake news, propaganda, half baked theirues etc. Despite their lies being caught time and again, these people react exactly in the yea, do what ways the author has described and carry on relentlessly sharing fake news and explaining it too!

      Sadly, few WhatsApp groups today are immune to this and one finds deluded people everywhere. If at all any WhatsApp group doesn’t have such people it is either a dormant group or a very lucky one.

  11. What a fantastic article! After years of sexist , racist, extreme Hindu opinions, I left my Whatsapp group 3 years ago. It was the best thing I did!

  12. Yes the only thing you share is a tie. I’d rather we call each other once in a while than to send jokes nobody’s going to read

  13. Nice article and your thoughts resonate well with mine 👍

  14. I respect your decision to leave the group, though you can mute the conversations anytime. You will the still get the feeling of liberation as the notifications don’t pop up for the group that has been muted. I use it all the time.
    Anyways,…

  15. Hahahaha…. What a funny world? The fact is each one does not know what they are doing or where they are heading ? One thing for sure towards the end death… They are scared and doing their part to do somthing. Everyone should…
    1. Know God and love him with all your Heart.
    2. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
    Be real… So…just start/practice love in your family and Happiness is all within you to make the world a better place.
    Thank you, quick nice to read.

  16. Well written but not all school groups are like that ! May be you do not have any close school friends . Some people stay in touch all their lives and even as grown ups , their best friend is still the same person from class 3. If your wavelength does not match , definitely it will feel like you are liberated . But iny case the postives are much greater than occasionally tolerating an useless joke.

  17. This is merely the writer’s opinion. Not universal truth. The heading should have been ‘ Why I quit the school whatsapp group’ . Not a recommendation for all Indians to quit their school groups.
    Just because he has no patience with all sorts of characters, does not mean that everyone is the same. Obviously he no longer identifies enough with his school mates & he’s not entirely comfortable in their company. So it’s right for him to quit.

  18. बहुत से right wingers simpletons होते हैं। उनके words पे मत जाओ , उनके दिल की भावना समझो। उन्हें sophisticated leftists की तरह भिगो के जूते मारने नही आते। गांधीजी की मैं बुराई नही करता पर मुझसे जबरदस्ती उनकी respect करने की उम्मीद मत रखो।

  19. बहुत से right wingers simpletons होते हैं। उनके words पे मत जाओ , उनके दिल की भावना समझो। उन्हें sophisticated leftists की तरह भिगो के जूते मारने नही आते। गांधीजी की मैं बुराई नही करता पर मुझसे जबरदस्ती उनकी respect करने की उम्मीद मत रखो।
    And it is the silent majority that is expressing it views through WhatsApp and people are no more enamoured by writeups of people like this author who expect claps for good behaviour (and a good English writeup) as they did in school.

  20. Well Sandip, nicely penned down but don’t you think it is too cliche and the obvious about the essence and existence, U can have healthy debates and discussions on one end as well as spiteful rants on the other or so called futile blabber as what some people believe. People join group need not mean that they have to voice their opinion and express their views. They can choose not to express and refrain themselves for giving remarks. It may be their way to express their dissent or shun the topic in discussion at hand by not commenting any further on it.

    This is a social media forum which thrives and will thrive on user generated content , all of which will not make everyone happy and ‘enlightened’. It has a comprehensive business model of its own.

  21. Interesting opinion.However it is a great idea to connect with people & keep the process of learning ongoing in our common humanity

  22. You sound like one of those ultra-sensitive kids at school who were squeamish about everything, never participated in sports or any other activity, just sat in one corner carefully and deliberately evesdeppong To get a chance to squeal on your classmates and ofcourse be the teachers pet. I bet most of your classmates didn’t even remember you before you joined the group and will definitely not miss you when you left. So I guess now as a some sort of journalist you can continue to rst on others

    • Mr Mehta, you have proved Mr Roy right. That is what all of us have experienced on WhatsApp where we have more and more people who think and write like you. Do you know Mr Roy and what gives you a right to call him names (that is what I think you are doing!) How have you come to know about his history from his school days and how his teachers looked at him. If you have known all that first hand, please do let us know. If not, could you please ask yourself – do you really have any right to attributing your views and insights to someone else without knowing anything about him? People who should get out of the groups are the people who form opinions about other knowing nothing about them.
      I had also quit an elite institute’s group, almost in the similar circumstances. On reflection, I realised that some of us have made a habit of challenging the dead people – who are not here to defend their choices, recommendations, views and perspectives? It is always very easy to abuse someone who can’t defend him or herself or is not here to defend. Have mercy on us.

      • Dear
        @ Anil

        Did you actually read the article or did you just come on board to write a lame rejoinder?? The author has actually taken pot shots at most everyone with his derogative nomenclatures for almost everyone, while his holiness sits on a pedestal with a halo on his head! And yes, I did go an check his Wiki page and I think my conclusions are pretty much spot on based on his orientation!

        Further, the author has clearly shown his prejudice by deliberately picking skewed political examples.

        Whats App Groups especially the school and Uni ones are pretty heterogenous in their composition and with a lot of varing views including extreme ones. There are arguments, rebuttals etc, but nobody takes these to heart. In the groups I am a member off, nobody has left despite extreme arguements and in our yearly reunions we all have a good laugh at these squabbles.

        • Dear Mr Mehta,
          My sense is that we have a different view on how we would like to read and comment on someone else’s work. First, I normally would not try reading about the background of a person who is writing. Secondly, it is not easy to know a person from his or her Wiki profile. Finally, I would not like to psycho analyse a person and start labeling a person and calling him or her names.

          When you say – ‘no body takes these to heart’, I see it as an absolute statement. Since you say that the groups are ‘pretty heterogenous’, do we really need to have one yardstick to measure reactions and hold others accountable to our views. I think not. Neither Mr Roy nor you or me have any right to hold others to our yardsticks.

          My larger concern is about situations where we have started abusing people who are dead or people who not with us to defend or explain their views and choices. It is one thing to challenge another individual in person and its another to start labeling and abusing people. I do recognise that it has become fashionable to label people (world over) but I find that to be a unreasonable approach to having a conversation – on social media or otherwise.

          it does no harm, if we try understanding someone else perspective by building on arguments rather than contesting aggressively. Contesting is one way to argue, but not the only way. Name calling is definitely not acceptable in a civilised (civilised as I see it) context.

    • And you sound like a school bully who did everything to grab attention because you didn’t get that at home. I bet you even called quite and sensible kids names because you were jealous that they are smarter than you. Poor you! Did your grades show that you were a bully? Usually bullies are really poor academically because they can’t read and that frustration comes out in the form of aggression

      • Wow, amazing, completely agree with your summation! Yes, complete Alfa male, with a kick ass attitude and no apologies about it. Top in sports and average academics. And Yes definitely a Bully!

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