Saahil first got seriously on social media because he had heard that Anjali was on it. Anjali was this pretty girl that he knew at work. The kind of girl that he almost never found the courage to talk to. But he wanted to talk to her. There was a sort of lyrical pain in her eyes, that told him that even though she was pretty, there was a certain depth in her thoughts. But he never found out, because whatever depth her thoughts went to, she was sharing it with Arjun, the smarty pants with glasses that was discussing politics and literature and post modern approach to gender and sex and such wise.
It wasn’t that Saahil didn’t have anything to say about these matters. It was just that whatever he had to say was a trickle in comparison to Arjun’s intellectual storm. And girls like Anjali liked that kind of vigorous glory.
But it was never this way online. When he typed his opinion on the women or freedom or religious equality or posted a picture, there were always people, smart men and pretty women, to appreciate his words and opinions. There was never anyone to cut into his conversational flow, nobody to rephrase his opinions, or even make one on his behalf. Online was safe as home, when he was sitting across and wishing he could just talk to Anjali.
But the group on oat-raisin cookies changed everything. He’d thought it was a food group of some sort, healthy stuff as opposed to hotel food, that would help cut off a bit of the flab that was piling up in the tummy area. The moon was an oat-raisin cookie, the 5000 member group informed him, and there was increasing scientific evidence to indicate that. He typed, “But the moon is….” He didn’t know how to phrase it, “The moon is white. Oat raisin cookies are….brown or black or chocolate-colored. And has raisins….” A girl named Divya with glasses and a profile pic that seemed to look up at him from some kind of kneeling position told him that this was because of the Hologram Effect. He gulped and typed, “I’ve never heard of anything like that…” She responded, “It’s a relatively new scientific concept. And the government obviously wants to keep it hush. But it explains why bulimics think they are fat and people like Salma Hayek think they’re ugly. A sort of photo-illusion effect that changes the way you look at things.” He replied, “But why does the government want to keep this hush?”
“Don’t you see it?” she commented, “If the moon were an oat-meal cookie….it debunks the moon-landing…..because Neil Armstrong would have found it and taken a bite off of it. Which he didn’t. And duh! That obviously proves that they never even landed!”
Saahil considered this as he perused the butterfly tattoo on her neck. When she put it like that….
Saahil was lying spread-eagled on the terrace. At his loft, so to speak. A fancy idea in the sitcom world, which translated in his lonely universe as a bachelor pad without a kitchen and access to the terrace and a stream of aunties asking if he could check if the water tank was empty and should they turn on the motor because they need to get on with their cooking for the little buggers. He avoided the terrace by the day. Besides, these odd conversation always left him hungry. But then that was possibly because he hadn’t eaten. He thought of his mother …fondly…especially the continuous non-thinking supply of food.
But night times were peaceful, minus the noise of these aunties, and he could spread a mat and rub on some odomos and spend the sleepless night staring at the endless sky, the stars looking down and the milky way spreading across like a familiar painting. Then there was the moon. The moon that he had always thought he’d known so well. The moon that now wanted to be an oat-meal cookie. He stared at it for a few long minutes, watching the little raisin that had until then been nothing more than a payasam ingredient. He typed, “Well, if the moon is an oat-meal cookie, I am feeling a lot less hungry just staring at it.”
Divya replied. She said that this was because he’d figuratively eaten the cookie, and there was scientific proof to indicate that 2% of hunger could be satiated by just staring at food. And that in this world of shorter meals and insane calorie-packed foods that cannot even begin to be processed by the human body, a lot of hunger was merely mental hunger, boredom and a social eating.
Some nights later, he took a picture of the oat-meal cookie moon and pasted it on his wall, his social media one not the real one that still had stains of tomato ketchup from left-over zomato orders.
There were titters among his follower friends, the ones that believed that he was doing it to mock the cookie theorists. Only Parvathy was skeptical. Parvathy, the rationalist humanist, who when online argued vehemently that cats should be allowed to vote, but in person would worry if her single discolored yellow teeth was offensive to others. She commented, “Dude…are you becoming a cookie monster by any chance,”. He knew from his daily discussions at the cookie forum that cookie monster was a derogatory way of referring to the cookie theorists. He bristled internally, and told himself that people like Parvathy didn’t matter. He replied. “It’s a cookie theorist, Parvathy.” And explained to her about the Hologram effect. The girl pooh-poohed it, and called him a pseudo-scientist that should be ashamed, especially being a trained engineer from such a reputed college. He replied asking her if she had ever wondered the truth about her teeth.
But this only got more attention, with Anjali jumping on the bandwagon to accuse him of body shaming. Yes, the Anjali who didn’t even know he existed. He explained to Anjali the Hologram effect, and how he was merely making a point with the case of Parvathy’s teeth. More people jumped onto the boat that was this argument. A boat that became a ship. A ship that was sinking and drowning him in the swirl of words around him, with the veritable shock of being thrown from the shadows of oblivion to the scorching eye of a flashlight storm. His fingers now moved over the keys without his entire knowledge or approval, arguing on his behalf, explaining, ridiculing even condescending. Who was this person. Saahil was growing unsure what exactly he was arguing about, or why he was so tired and lying spent on the hard floor, no longer enjoying the night sky because parts of his body were turning numb as his pulsing head.
Then a private message popped up from Divya. He had surprised her, she typed. She hadn’t imagined him to be so passionate. Articulate. And now she wanted to tell him a secret. Was he ready to hear it?
What? He typed, his heart racing as fast as his fingers.
She typed. He was the kind of person that could change the world. She just knew it.
This time when he lay back down, the moon winked at him with its raisin eye. Well, he had made quite a few good points. He had told Anjali that she saw the world as a simple two dimensional space, much like a profile picture, and she was not prepared to see the world as the three dimensional space it actually was. She needed to change her perspective, open her inner eye. Try different things. Perhaps even bake an oat-meal cookie so that she could attempt to understand how amazing the universe was, listen to the bang in the microwave to get a semblance of its origins. Of course, by the time the crone Parvathy asked him if he thought that women should stick to cooking and baking, he had arrived at the Cookie Cafe, where the cookie theorists had decided to meet up.
They’d gathered around a family bucket of cookies on one of the larger tables. He caught sight of Divya. It was the first time he was seeing Divya erect like that, as opposed to supinely submissive position that she chose as her online persona. The opposite of Parvathy, really. A shy violet in the shade suddenly in full bloom. And it was shocking transformation, and slightly disorienting. Still, she waved nervously as she caught sight of him, and he approached, watching her smile linger on her cocked head. He prayed that she wouldn’t say he looked very unrecognizable from his profile picture. Anyway, he’d tried to dress in the same orange shirt, and even arranged his earphones about his neck, and planned to express surprise if anyone observed the semblance. He sat down as he heard the guy next to Divya saying something about the corona virus while adjusting his nerdy spectacles, impatient at the interruption and the loss of Divya’s attention. Divya returned her eyes to the guy dutifully, who then proceeded to tell the crowd of twenty that oat-raisin cookies were being tested in a school in Tirupur, and it was showing good results against the virus, especially when the rays of the moon were the strongest and the children more susceptible to the oat-raisin vaccine as it was now being called. Cookie scientists had discovered that the source of the mysterious corona virus and why it was originating in China, which was at the greatest distance from the moon. As they all knew the Earth was a Ceramic plate, he explained, and the moon raisin cookies were falling towards it under the quantum gravity, and the problem was that the cookies have been trying desperately to land, and could not tolerate being held mid-air like a cutting chai being poured that was eternally falling but never landing in its cup. This state of immense moon-separation caused an intolerable vacuum in China. But India need not worry, we did not suffer a similar distance, and there was always the solution of eating the cookies. Saahil watched Divya’s eyes lighting up as the guy talked, and finally, in the pause that he granted, she gushed, “That’s so brilliant, Arjun.” Saahil watched as Arjun nodded gracefully, caressing his own long arms as Divya spent a few minutes introducing Saahil to the group, hotly aware that Arjun was observing him very carefully. Finally Arjun addressed him, “So what do you think Saahil….about all this?” Arjun’s way of questioning was impatient, cursory, as if he already knew that Saahil couldn’t provide a satisfactory answer. Saahil felt the familiar beating of the heart in his tongue, the tremble on his lips, the butterflies fluttering with his eyelids. Divya looked on sweetly, hopefully, even from under the spell of Arjun, drummed his fingernails on the table as if Saahil were an unwanted popup that was refusing to leave the screen. Finally, when the words began to dry in his mouth, Saahil grabbed a cookie and said, “I actually don’t think the moon is an oat-meal cookie.”
“What?” The sound was in unison, the twenty voices around the entire table, Divya, Arjun, even the servers and the waiters….
“NO,” said Saahil, and here he inserted the cookie in his mouth and mumbled, “I think you all got it wrong….”
“But then—” said Divya, betrayal, disbelief flashing in her eyes like a collapsing star, her butterfly tattoo stretching aghast…
“It is the sun,” said Saahil, and the strange words left him burning. He breathed deeply as let his eyes close into brightness of the new day. He said, “The sun is the oatmeal-cookie.”