What happens inside an Indian family WhatsApp group?

Turns out, smartphone users in India are running out of phone space, which has led to some serious head-scratching in the Silicon Valley

Do you have a good morning-less life? Woken up to not a single good morning message, lying unread in your notification tab. Well then, you live in bliss and I want your life. I don’t have this luxury because if you want to live in India, you have to be part of a thing called family WhatsApp groups.

Now, do not confuse this with the WhatsApp group that exists with your immediate family members, you know the parents and the children form a separate group.

Yes, that does mean more WhatsApp messages, spewing positive thoughts. Then there’s a group of the distant relatives and one with the close relatives and this goes on to occupy more than half the number of groups I’ve been forced to join, keeping to the spirit of “keeping in touch”.

A Wall Street Journal report tells us each month there are 200 million active users recorded in India. It turns out that smartphone users in India are running out of phone space, which has led to some serious head-scratching in the Silicon Valley, as experts tried out to figure out why this was happening.

In the last five years or so, the report claims that “Good Morning” images with flowers and babies on them have increased about nine times than normal because it’s considered a good omen to send cheery messages.

That day when it started is still etched in my memory as clear as day when I was added to these groups. Of course, awkward hellos are part of the greetings. It’s like that one family function you attend, but at least you have enough to time to memorise everyone’s names, their children’s names and their pets’ names and their neighbour’s names because your mother makes sure you are given a crash course before every gathering.

After the induction to the WhatsApp group, futile meet-up plans of all the 256 members of the group will be made. Everyone knows none of the plans will ever work out because most of us don’t even live in the same city, but hours must be spent in making them.

Such is the obsession with WhatsApp messages that I feel our parents’ generation will probably write WhatsApp texts into their wills. My mother’s two-month-old phone died recently and she called me up to ask how to backup the WhatsApp messages. Yep, she was not worried about the phone. The googled WhatsApp texts and videos should be safe.

To all the family group members, I would like to take the time to actually teach one feature on both Facebook and WhatsApp – the status message. Instead of sending one message to multiple groups, you can set one status message and everyone can see it. You cover all bases!

Every Indian parent tells me that they are exasperated with texting as not much of the tone and the emotion gets conveyed through chats. So, they exclusively use it for sending WhatsApp messages.

Case in point: I talk to my father twice a week, but this is the WhatsApp conversation we have.

In the sea of unverified videos, unsolicited advice, and random trivia, there is a “humorous” exchange of typical sexist jokes as well. Surprisingly, it’s not always the men sharing these jokes, women actively share and take part in laughing at the crappy one-liners or stereotypical wife jokes with equal joy.

It was during one of these “friendly” banters that I decided to quit the group, but I wasn’t getting away with that so easily. I was immediately added back and asked to explain my blatant disregard for my extended family’s feelings. I tried to make up a sad excuse about my phone being out of space and data instead of confronting them because I was worried my parents would disown me and I need their financial security as a fallback option to get through life. Jokes apart, I tried to explain that some of the jokes made me uncomfortable, but it was just met with protests that were all in good humour. So I decided I had no sense of humour and have never looked back.