(Written for my column "Monthly Misgivings" in Media Voice magazine)
I am always amused at the idea of me that people who don't know me seem to have. Recently, someone asked me if I could speak to the members of a club about how I balance my work and life. Ever the first one to laugh at jokes - unintended or otherwise - made at my expense, I had to exercise great control to keep up my serious demeanour. "You are always doing a lot of things, travelling here and there. It all sounds like a lot of fun," he said. Amidst feeling flattered, I did not fail to notice the beautiful haziness of it all. He only knew I did a lot of "things" and that I travelled "here and there." A big thought bubble formed over my head, and inside it was my face with an evil grin etched on it, and the lines, "Oh... so that is what I possess. Mystery value. No one knows what I do!"
It is not as if I try hard to conceal the details of my work life. But the idea of one full-time, salaried job is such an oppressive norm that it has spread its tentacles over people's heads and sucked out from them any possibility of looking at life and work differently. Someone quite innocently asked me what I do. In all earnestness, I listed out the different things I do. The poor soul looked completely baffled and said, "But what do you do full-time?" It was my turn to look baffled. I said, "I live full-time. Everything else I do part-time." It was only a few minutes later, and only after being prompted by the cheers of the other people around, that I sensed I had said something that could be considered witty. As usual, I had been witty without meaning to be so. My baffled responses to everyday queries from people have earned me a questionable reputation for being witty.
But I love it that people think I am so put together and focussed. Little do they know that I am as focussed as a ........ Sorry, I drifted off.
It often happens to me that I realize that the person I am talking to thinks more highly of me than I do myself! I have sort of resented it, too. When someone thinks highly of you, there is a certain pressure to live up to that image. When you protest and try to disabuse them of their fancy notions, they think you are falsely modest! There is no way out. You just have to quietly resign to the faith that time will reveal to them their delusions, that they will soon know what a nincompoop you are!
On the other hand, we are never good enough for some people. But we would flagellate ourselves to make this crowd understand our worth. Who cares about those who think we are wonderful when there is a thronging mass of people, often close at hand, that makes you think your worst suspicion is true - that you are worthless?
On a serious note, how hard it is for some of us to accept compliments, believe them, and see us in our own true glory! As my favourite poet Wislawa Szymborska says in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "in our clamorous times it's much easier to acknowledge your faults, at least if they're attractively packaged, than to recognize your own merits, since these are hidden deeper and you never quite believe in them yourself."
Very true. I would like to believe in my merits. And I resolve do so as soon as I find out what they are. Also, I need to do something about this wretched force of habit that finds in my faults a richer source of humour than in my merits, whatever and wherever they are. The moment I find something else that makes me funny, I will drop my self-deprecation. I promise, my dear poet!
In the mean time, I have agreed to speak at this meeting about my work and life. But I managed to bypass the murky terrain of balance, or its utter lack there of.