What “Sudani From Nigeria” Taught Me About WhatsApp Voice Notes

 Did you see “Sudani from Nigeria?” Did you, like most people, love it?

I loved the movie. I loved the story, the characters, the direction and oh that shot of Jameela (Savithri Sreedharan) opening the front door.

But this is not a review about that great movie. This is about WhatsApp Voice notes.

There are hilarious scenes in Sudani where Soubin Shahir urges people to send voice notes in the football WhatsApp group. I found it funny because I could truly relate.

When I lived in Dubai for three months as a bachelor looking for a job, (a right of passage for Malayalis, many would argue), I was among an ensemble cast that populated a standard room. Eight bunk beds occupied by eight men of varying age and thankfully varying work timings. But of all the things I could have found fascinating in that environment, it was the way my roommates would suddenly talk out loud as though they were in the middle of a phone call.

I finally caught on when I saw Arjun release his thumb and lower his phone. He resumed his cooking and paused a minute later to tap something. “Atheda, neyokke athuthanne parayum! Eh…aah, anna sheriyada, nale kanam!”

Not all Arjuns I know are fans of voice notes. There’s one in Canada, a dear friend of mine who shares a lot of my same beliefs, except when it comes to that little microphone icon at the bottom right corner of the screen.

“Why do Malayalis like sending so many voice notes?” He asked as we were driving down a highway.

“Hmm….I don’t know. I mean, first off, do you think only Malayalis do that?”

He told me what I soon confirmed for myself. Very few Canadians use WhatsApp. Facebook Messenger, regular SMS and even Snapchat were ahead of the app downloaded and beloved by over a billion people!

“I mean,” he continued, “why would you use an app that’s for texting…to talk instead?”

I could see what he meant. Imagine you are sitting in a boring meeting, texting your friend about the weekend’s plans. How would it be if he sent you a voice note?

But after a month away from home, I’ve realized just how amazing WhatsApp voice notes are. Yes, this really is the point of this article. You are reading a Malayali guy’s ode to a technical feature on a smartphone application. Thundangam? (Let’s start?)

I love WhatsApp voice notes because they take the best part of a phone conversation, and get rid of all the rest. My mother always asks me to call her. But because of the time difference, either I’m in a crowded place or she’s entertaining guests when we have a live conversation. Enter Voice notes.

At the end of a busy day, when I’m happy or frustrated, excited or worried, I don’t need to swipe right and stare at the phone, hoping she’ll pick up. I don’t have to keep up my thoughts until she calls me back. Instead, with a simple tap (thank you WhatsApp for that update…on behalf of our thumbs), I can pour my heart out. Oh, it’s not always that dramatic. But that’s the point. Whether I’m rambling or ranting, recollecting or reviewing, there’s nothing that filters, distils and converts my thoughts. I don’t have to pause because something happened halfway across the world, I don’t have to repeat because something didn’t reach there right on time. Instead, like Dumbledore, I basically pull out a thought from my mind and plop it into my phone. No format conversion, no upload and download lag, nothing.

Getting a voice note can be even more fulfilling than sending one, as I’m periodically reminded. With my earphones plugged in, I can rush towards college, past unfamiliar faces, buildings, temperature and winds, listening to my friend’s voice note from Dubai. It’s 8 A.M. on the Atlantic Coast, but when he starts speaking it’s as if a portal has opened up around my head. As if I’m a wizard capable of peeking into the busy entrance of a Mall on Thursday night that’s filled with moviegoers who’re comparing notes about Joker. I can hear the sounds of Land Cruisers honking in the background, the lift opening, the audio system playing Ed Sheeran. And I can hear my best friend as if he’s at my shoulder, as if simply through his voice I can picture his facial expressions and hand gestures. For 5 or 8 or maybe even 10 minutes, it’s like I conjured him to keep me company, to console me and to delight me.

I used to believe voice notes were silly and inconvenient and frankly…not the “cool” way to communicate.

I now believe no amount of texts or video calls or GIFS can be as effective as the right voice note at the right time.

Yes, I’ve added video calls to the list. Not because they aren’t a great way to stay in touch, but because even today they have their flaws. The video feed freezes, you get interrupted, the audio cuts out.

But right now, if there’s one form of communication that’s fast, easy and extremely potent, I’d argue it’s the WhatsApp voice note. You can send one faster than a text, it can convey more information than a mail, and, if done right, it’ll surprise you with a mental picture of the speaker that’s more satisfying than a live one because it’s been pieced together from countless visual memories you’d stored but never accessed before.

So, in the words of Majeed, “usharrayitte paraye…oru naalanju groupilekkyu ushaarayitte parayye!”

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