Meenal and I have been having quite a few conversations about our very first interactions lately and most of these revolve around how I used to be, for the lack of a better term, a sociopath. Just hours after Shane called me 'rigid' this morning, she used the exact same word to describe who I was a year ago. While I may have become a lot calmer and less rigid with time, it's possible that some things don't go away that easily. You'll see what I mean at the end of this post.
As we were reminiscing, Meenal shared how she was quite sure in the beginning that I didn't even like her. She felt like she was probably coming on a little too strong, that she was maybe even annoying me. She remembers instances where she'd ask me if I'd had dinner and I'd just respond with a yes or no. Then she'd prod further and ask what I'd had for dinner and I'd simply answer her question in a word or a sentence. I asked her if she thought I was being rude at the time and she said no, not rude. Just weird. I always answered her questions with a smile on my face but with that smile came the uncanny ability to end conversations abruptly. I never reciprocated the courtesy by asking her if she'd had dinner or by attempting to take the conversation forward. I was simply unapproachable and this is something I've heard way too many times in my life.
When I first went to college, I had just left behind a school setting that I deplored. I didn't fit in at that school and couldn't wrap my head around the whole concept of people referring to an institution as their "second home". I, in fact, loved my time at college but I'd still not go so far as to call it my second home. I had very few friends in school, found it hard to relate to most people around me and definitely stood out in most groups like a sore thumb. At this stage of my life, I'm ready to accept that I was probably the problem. I was the weird one or at least I was in the wrong setting at the wrong time. It's not you, it's me.
When it was time for me to go to college, I inadvertently carried forward some of my old habits from high school into this new setting. I walked into class every morning armed with books I could bury my nose into, sat only on the first bench in class, and kept to myself for the most part. In the first few weeks of college as everyone around me was socializing and getting to know each other, I read my books. Later, my best friends would tell me how weird they thought I was, how I'd smile at them, nod my head sometimes and respond to their questions but never engage.
Then came Shane. Imagine if you were organizing a school reunion and got in touch with one of the people who hadn't RSVP'd to ask if they'd be coming after all, only to be met with a single syllable response - no. Would you bother to even take that conversation forward? Is there any scope for that? However, much like Meenal, Shane pressed for more and I said, "I don't really like a lot of people I went to school with so I'm not interested in seeing them again". That should have done it. But it led to a wedding and my picking up stray socks and chewed out nails hidden in various corners of our home instead.
Shane, Meenal, my best friends from college - these are a few of the tiny group of people I let in. The very few people who can finally approach me now. They still think I'm weird but for completely different reasons. I talk to them in voices and accents, I throw crap at them, push and shove them to display affection, boss them around, go to them for help, laugh at and with them till happy tears stream down my face, and every one of them thinks I'm too loud for such a tiny person.
Over the last year, I have been coming out of my shell a lot more and a lot faster than I'd imagined. Interacting with the readers of this blog has always been pleasant because I mostly do so via email or texts, and the idea of staying behind a screen and using written words during these interactions was always comforting. I did it at my own pace and that was fine. Then came the podcast where I was forced to talk to complete strangers - renowned, established and even famous strangers at times - to conduct their interviews. Preparing for an interview and asking questions is not what I'm talking about here. It's the small talk the precedes and follows these interactions that made me uncomfortable in the beginning. I remember how there was a time when I'd force Meenal to be the one to establish first contact with a guest so that I wouldn't have to deal with it. Later, I began to do it on my own because I was ready and nowadays, it's a piece of cake.
This whole month of August has been showing me in small subtle ways how much I've changed for the better. A few days ago at a weekly social gathering that I chose to go to, I found myself initiating a conversation with a girl who'd smile and respond in a word or a sentence without having anything more to add. I immediately related to what she was feeling and politely left her alone. I could finally understand how someone might think that's rude or weird behaviour but at the same time, I found it endearing. Because I was that girl less than a year ago. I'm sure that girl still lives on inside me somewhere but for now, I'm comfortable initiating conversations with other weirdos like me, getting to see how others perceived me in the process.
That evening after I attempted to talk to that girl, I was feeling mighty proud of myself, like, look at me, talking to people and conquering the world! That's when my phone buzzed. It was a Facebook message from a long forgotten acquaintance: Hey
This is someone that I could pass in a crowd and not even recognize. I could just about make a mental connection between his name and how I know it. My immediate instinct was to avert my gaze from the screen in an attempt to make it disappear just by not looking at it. I wanted to set my phone aside and never respond to that message but I stopped short of overreacting. Didn't I remember my triumphs from earlier that day? Wasn't I this new and advanced version of myself? An Ankita 2.0 perhaps?
So I quickly typed out my response, a total of three well thought out characters (Hi!) and pressed send. I set my phone aside hoping that that would be the end of it. From my personal experience, sometimes, people like to send hey's and hi's only to ignore you the second you respond. But that was not to be the case. This person asked me if I remembered him and I stopped everything I was doing to roll my eyes at Shane. I soon clarified that I wasn't rolling my eyes at him but that I was just exasperated with people who simply cannot get to the point.
Why is this person getting in touch with me now when I haven't spoken to him even once in my entire life?
Why is he asking me if I remember him instead of telling me what he wants from me?
Is it mildly patronizing of him to be asking me that question?
What will he do if I say that I don't remember him?
Shall I try that now?
At that, Shane asked me to please stop being such an Ankita 1.0
So I told the guy that I remembered him.
For some reason, that turned out to be the end of the conversation for the time being. It took a whole of twenty-two hours for me to hear back from him and this time he wanted to know how I was doing. I admit to rolling my eyes some more before responding that I was well, thank you very much. I even remembered to be courteous enough to express interest in this stranger's life so I asked him in turn how he was doing. And then we had a nice adult conversation where we were both polite to each other, asked reasonable questions to catch up and I finally found out why he got in touch with me in the first place. Except none of those things happened. He never responded to my question and I haven't heard from him since.
And thus, in the month of August, I have realised two things:
I'm getting really good at not being a sociopath.
I hate people.