I remember this conversation I had with a student of mine.
‘I like to be different. I don’t like the mundane. I have always wanted to be different from the crowd‘, he said.
Being different is in vogue. Eccentricity is a fashion statement. It doesn’t matter what you do to be different. You could dye your hair gray (purple is already taken!) or you could opt out of an employment just so that you make yourself different from the crowd. An emblem that says ‘I am different. So please pay attention!’
However, people seldom realize what it takes to be different. Different not by way of an emblem, but different as in ‘different’!
The commonest statement I hear about my own self from people is- ‘You are different‘.
Years ago, I remember somebody who liked me.
‘But what is it about me that you like?‘ I asked.
‘You are different.‘ he said.
I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at that time. I wasn’t even sure if it was a good thing.
Years ago, when I appeared for my first interview abroad, and the consultant asked me what brought me abroad, I told him how much I loved travelling and how career was the best excuse to travel. I was certain I was being very raw and childish in my answers. At the end of the interview, these were his words:
‘You will not have trouble making your way up in this country. You are different!‘
I remember the man who had kept me company when I had missed my train to Edinburgh and hopped on to another train, desperate to catch the last connecting train at Newcastle. When we made it on time, and I bid goodbye to the man, he said to me- ‘You are different!‘
Thereafter, many people said this to me…
A stranger who narrated to me the entire story of his life when I was travelling in the bus…
Madan, who became my best friend when I was abroad…
More recently, my patients and my students.
Today, as I publish my first book, I hear the same statement.
So what made me different?
The truth is that I was vulnerable and suffered from low self-esteem. As a child, it was not so. My world was resplendent with the love and affection of my parents, my extended family and my friends. It was a world of bliss and I spent all my childhood, lost in my perceptions of this beautiful world. It was adolescence that broke this bubble. I was suddenly self-conscious and anxious. I thought of all my friends as beautiful, and myself as ugly in comparison. They seemed to be so sure, so certain of what looked good and what didn’t.
They seemed to know it all- the best places to hang out, the best movies in town, the best shade of lipstick to wear, the right thing to say, the right thing to do.
I was suddenly having trouble making choices. I was having trouble participating in conversations. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that this was not my cup of tea. I came to acceptance of the fact that I was never going to be like them, however hard I tried. I think it was this acceptance that made me focus on my perceptions. The feeling that I was not interesting or attractive, caused me to focus on my surroundings and shift the dais to other people. I loved being inconspicuous and anonymous.
I would always be lost in my surroundings for I always found them far more interesting than I ever was.
I think it was this involvement with my surroundings that gave me a glimpse of the world that would have been impossible otherwise. I saw things which I might not have seen otherwise. It was this lack of need for attention that always seemed to capture attention- sometimes from the best of people. In fact, I would often be uncomfortable when people paid attention to me. I would be shy and clumsy, and would make a fool of myself. And yet, some of those people were very kind and loving. I think it was this aspect of me that captured the best of friends and the best of experiences.
It took me a very long time to get comfortable with attention. I wouldn’t claim that I am fully comfortable with it now- I am only comfortable with attention when I am talking about something I am passionate about, and people are focusing on the content of my conversation, and not on me. Or when I am in the company of very close friends.
But in general, attention continues to make me blush…visibly!