I am one of those people who hate limelight, any kind of it: be it something as huge as performing on stage in front of a huge audience to something as insignificant as a class presentation. So ever since I was a child, I have consciously avoided being noticed, and given the pint-sized kid/woman I was/am, it hasn’t been too hard.
Strategically, I chose a school which ran like a factory: two shifts of eight hours each, over 1000 kids in a class with about 70 in each section. Hence teachers did not have time for individual attention, they came in a breeze, delivered their speech and went in a breeze for the next class. Students were more like assembly line production, and I was happy with that. I was happy being the average student, hiding somewhere in the last five rows behind tall, bespectacled studious boys, I was happy that the school did not insist on any Romney-Obama style debates or active parliamentary class participation and I was happy that it never insisted on ‘moulding kids into holistic personalities’. Its job was to strictly churn out JEE toppers who would make excellent IT professionals in TCS and Infosys.
Now, obviously since I wasn’t one of those AND I had no ‘personality’ to boast of, I was this shy fat kid with her nose in a novel, whose presence or absence wouldn’t really be noticed. To change things, I decided to test waters outside of academics. I was a pretty graceful swimmer and started training for competitive swimming when I was nine. But as luck would have it, once I DID come into limelight, I made a mess of it by finishing LAST in most events. If that wasn’t bad enough for my already bruised self-confidence, the next frontier was dancing, where, by virtue of being the smallest, I would ALWAYS be asked to perform in the front row, i.e. more vulnerable to the scrutiny of judging parents, relatives, friends’ family, acquaintances and neighbours. And trust me, for a ten-year-old dolled up kid with excessive make-up and uncomfortable outfits, I made PLENTY of goof-ups, at times, just standing helplessly with a vacuous look, gripped by sheer stage fright.
The trauma of anonymity continued in college, when I was new to Bombay, new to the cosmopolitan culture, new to hostel life and overshadowed by girls who were extrovert, popular, uninhibited and completely at ease with the freedom and independence that the city offered. So I recoiled further into my shell, preferring the comfort of the library or my tiny hostel room, interrupted by solitary walks by Marine Drive or the cobbled streets of Colaba, Fort and Metro.
The road to B school admissions was paved with devils, as I got trampled by smooth-talking loud students from Delhi University, fumbling from one GD to another, trying to get a word in, but failing miserably. Somehow, once I did manage to squeeze myself into a decent enough college, it was back to the familiar pattern. I made no effort to ingratiate myself to the professors or the admin staff, happily giving up on easy CP marks, and preferring to write backlog after backlog instead of “forging a bond with the people who matter”. By now, I was comfortable in my old skin, hanging out with a few close friends and devoting myself passionately to Corpcomm, feverishly churning out articles, editorials and news stories. At last, I had found a medium to express myself and the words suddenly flowed, easily, effortlessly, naturally.
Even in the three years of corporate life, I never felt the need to be different, sticking to my thumb rule of minimum small talk, which is very often mistaken as arrogance, rudeness and bad attitude. So yes, I still can’t bring myself to participate in meetings, I still can’t make irreverent conversation with colleagues and I still can’t ingratiate myself to ‘the people who matter’. And now, as I gradually move up the carnivorous value chain, as I assume more responsibilities and as I am required to deal with more people, I feel strangely uncomfortable, slightly inadequate and severely out-of-place.
The shy ten-year-old in me is desperately trying to hold on to the familiarity of the last bench corner, the awkward teenager in me is still hanging on to the comfort of the privacy of the tiny hostel room and the headstrong first-year analyst in me is trying to fend off the evils of sycophancy that is synonymous with corporate life.
The matured pragmatist in me is hoping to maintain the fine balance, while the naïve rebel in me curls up on bed, switched off from the world, poring over Rohington Mistry’s ‘A Fine Balance’, vigorously identifying with the obstinate Dina Dalal…