I’ve been fascinated by my name for a long time. It’s not that common. It’s not the John Smith of Londoners-with-parents-from-Kenya-and-the-Middle-East-who-originally-came-from-India. Despite what anyone thinks. It’s not that common because a Shukl is a small sect of priests who can marry people. Also, I’m Gujarati and most Shuklas seem to be Punjabi. And Nikesh – my mum and dad insist they invented the word. Except, on Facebook, there are a lot of Nikeshs
Meatspace started with multiple strands of internet addiction/interaction, that all came together when I realised their common thread – actually, our Google searches are creepy. One of these strands was my search for other Nikesh Shuklas.
When I first signed up for Facebook, I was the only me. Which was nice. I remember looking for old school friends, trawling through pages of a generic name, hoping to come across what that person looks 20 years later. I thought, they’ll find me, because I’m the only me.
If they were even looking for me.
Even though there weren’t any Nikesh Shuklas on Facebook in 2006 when I first signed up, there were a lot of Nikeshs. This was in the days when your public profile was harder to mask, and people were less careful about what they put on there. I got obsessed with these other Nikeshs. Who were they? Apart from a buffet of avatars of bare torsos, sunglasses-clad faces on balconies, business portfolio profile shots, obscured flashes in the mirror. The avatars of pre-smartphone were less imaginative, found photos and manual selfies.
I added all these Nikeshs. I was after numbers. I was looking to self-promote my rap records. I would add them and send them the same message.
"Hi, we share the same first name. We should be more than friends. Maybe we should set up an International League of Nikesh to fight crime. Interested?"
They all added me. Without responding to my message. I ended up with 50 new Nikeshs before they started to interact with my family and it weirded me out. Especially when they’d argue politics with my uncles on my timeline.
Then, another Nikesh Shukla appeared. In 2010 or so. A brand-new Nikesh Shukla. Another me. I had to know who this guy was. This was my first internet doppelganger. How similar were we? Was he an artist? Did he like The Sopranos? Was he into Lower East Side musician Jeffrey Lewis? Was he obsessed with sitcoms? I had to know. I added him. He sent me a message back saying, "Are you adding me because we have the same name?" I replied, "Hell yeah. Don’t you want to know how similar we are?" I sent him a questionnaire. Questions like did he prefer Batman or Spider-man? What was his favourite sandwich fillings? Where he stood on the political spectrum? I threw a couple of moral quandaries his way too.
He never replied.
And now, four years later, there are six other Nikesh Shuklas on Facebook. They all live in India. They all have their profiles locked down as much as I do. My name doesn’t feel as special anymore. I don’t feel as close to the other Nikesh Shuklas as I wish I did. Who are they? What do they do? When they self-google and see me and all my stupid writing stuff, what do they think? Hopefully, something like, I like that this guy is doing something for our obscure name. Or do they think, "oh that’s the git who got the dot com…"
Either way, we are legion now. There may not be an International League of Nikesh. I may not know another Nikesh Shukla. But my world has got smaller. And every day I think about those seven other guys and hope they’re doing something more worthwhile with their lives than writing a technothriller imagining what life would be like if one of them showed up on my doorstep.