I do not know when it happened, or, at least, happened for the rest of the world that is always out there judging me as a person, and unsolicitedly deciding my personality traits on my behalf. I got labelled as an extrovert.
I grew up as a shy kid, which is how every kid grows up in a middle-class family in India. I had to go through the assault of plentiful relatives and countless uncles and aunties from the neighborhood who would drop-by the house in the evenings. And just when I would try sneaking in some unsecluded corner of our meagre house to escape this barrage, one of my parents would do the inevitable – “Bade acchhe number aaye iske is baar. Beta aunty ko wo waali poem sunaao.” The ensuing hours were always tormenting: I would fumble through one of the textbook poems, while my audience would munch away namkeen biscuits and loudly sip through their tea. This wasn’t even public performance, but the slightest exposure to people for my 12-year old mind was almost indecent. As I grew up further, the pressure to dance at children’s birthday parties and family weddings and community gatherings on local festivals started building up from unknown people who always seemed to decide things on my behalf – that somebody who scores decently in school should do this, and this, and this as well. The list included learning martial arts, playing a musical instrument, painting, typewriting, but never television.
And so I went through each of these. While learning Karate, and later Taekwondo, the only thing I could do decently were the forms: quietly using the flexibility afforded by a kid’s body to demonstrate exercises, kicks, and punches, without actually hitting anyone. Whenever I was asked to actually fight, I would be terrorized. Not because fights were terrifying (no one hit opponents for real), but the onlookers made me freeze. It was once again an indecent exposure, and somehow my embarrassment never got channelized into aggression, but almost always into helplessness. The Hawaain guitar lessons were rather boring with too much of classical teachings for a brain that was more at ease knowing about formulations of dry ice. I could’ve still managed to learn some bits of guitar, had I been left alone instead of being asked to perform in my first year of training in front of an audience consisting of, you know who. For them, it was an enjoyable game: I knew only 4 Bollywood songs, and they had to guess which one I was playing because it was rarely identifiable. With painting, just when I thought I was beginning to like the blue skies I could paint, my parents thought it well to exhibit them to every visitor to the house. And lo, I lost interest in that as well. The only thing that went well was typewriting, probably because there were no samples to bring home, or no machines to demonstrate on. I avoided all forms of sports too, because it always required people training their eyes on you – I couldn’t stand people prying on how I bat, or how I swim, or how I exercise in a gym.
My introversion was best reflected in the personal notebook I had as a school kid. On some days, it had diary entries, often it had lyrics from Bollywood songs (I had a fancy for the lyrical charm of old Bollywood), and sometimes, amateur poems. One fine day, pop came a request in front of a nameless neighbor – “Beta why don’t you recite that poem you wrote on prices of mustard oil?” And there, my secret was gone. It was as if the world was always conspiring for me to perform; anything done in seclusion wasn’t worth doing.
With entry into college, my introversion got subjected to further stress tests. To be amongst the guys who ‘belonged’, one had to be talkative, sociable, and friendly. I tried a year of rather secluded living, but it seemed like the extroverts created such a tremendous pressure that one always felt left out. These were the guys who would sit and narrate stories on a canteen bench and others will listen with rapt attention, who would stay up late at night and go for a smoke at 4 am and others would want to join them, who would watch sports in the common room and others will react with them, who would manage to be in a spotlight that seemed to always follow them. And I started to be that guy. Only that, I still couldn’t deal with sports, or do anything that didn’t involve being with the crowd and almost hiding in it. I did manage public speaking, but only to an audience that was familiar. Strangers gave me goosebumps.
The corporate world was even more ruthless. Here, extroversion was rewarded; not just by women swooning over you in gatherings, but by clients who judged your acumen based on the glibness of your talk. I would cringe at colleagues who could introduce themselves to everybody in the party, completely on their own. Like just by themselves, no kidding. I would detest those who were comfortable in their skin to walk-in late, and still get noticed even by super-seniors, or walk-out early, and still get fabulous send-offs compared to people like us whose presence never even mattered. I would despise those who could dance gracefully even in suits and dress shoes, and even when they had to be the first ones on the dance floor. And because I couldn’t be them, I started being the guy who could at least hold a conversation with people who were known personally and pretend being an extrovert. Such was the temptation that I couldn’t resist being an extrovert, if only for non-strangers. I started liking it too: hosting a gathering where I felt comfortable enough to pass sarcastic remarks made me feel closer to that performer I was always pushed into becoming.
It’s rather unfortunate that introversions rarely get rewarded. There were barely a handful who could delve deeper into my mind and notice that it had thoughts I would like to consider as beautiful, and not just the unruliness of a pretentious high-fiver. Only a few could see through my eyes to know that networking events are loathsome, that gatherings where less than half of the invitees are known to me are abhorring, that there is more peace in the music that plays amidst the closest companies instead of an unknown crowd in a motley bar. It’s rather unfortunate that extroverts got the upper hand in the worldly scheme of things. The loud and attention-seeking people mostly devoid of substance won the rat-race, and it is worse that I am still trying to be one of them because it were them who labelled me as an extrovert and I had to play along: it’s tempting, you see! To make some amends, next time when we meet, please ask me about my blogs instead of my favorite cocktail.
P.S. Thanks to Rabia Kapoor for the inspiration.
P.S. Thanks to Rabia Kapoor for the inspiration.