My gym instructor thought I didn’t have a voice, because a week went by with him giving me instructions and me responding by sign language. Like pointing. And nodding. And when I’m done, hanging around in his shadow creepily until he notices me.
Two weeks into the sweat-laden sojourn, I’ve just begun to add a vocal “bye” to the usual hand-waving. I feel ecstatic. A feeling that lasts until the next time I want to ask him something and he refuses to meet my eye. I know his name, I consider calling him out, but my throat closes up at the thought and the ecstasy of giving voice to my farewell the previous evening flies out of the unused window into the screeching traffic. To die a horrific death.
The thing is, this is not a newly acquired character quirk. (In such cases, it usually isn’t.) I had the same problem since childhood. Except I never paid it much mind. You see, when you’re a child and you’re stumbling over conversation, you move on from words to being cute. One way is to hide in your mother’s pallu the moment you’re stuck. Trust me, it’s acceptable behavior for a child. The most punishment you’ll receive is some unwelcome aunty pinching your cheeks. The other way is to make a face that’s so adorably lost that even Hugh Grant who made an entire career out of it will go Awww….
I graduated from the first to the second one quite early. But, as the story goes with early bloomers, my empirical rise in the channels of conversation stalling, stopped there. I’m currently still making cute faces, except that when you’re 24, it’s just called making faces.
The first time I actually noticed this “quirk” in the light of a problem was when I went to college and considered starving myself rather than calling out for a mess waiter to get me food. Because, there, I couldn’t call them by lifting a finger or pointing; I had to call them by their given name. Four years I spent in that place, I learnt all their names, they learnt to recognize me and with a couple, I even talked about their families. But, I would still be sitting at the table with a parched throat until a friend takes pity on me and calls for a waiter.
I don’t have stage fright, but, I wouldn’t dare go into a crowd of people without a friend by my side. I don’t panic while chatting on a social network, but if you call me, my first reaction is to swallow the ball of burning acid that gets lodged in my throat before emitting a hoarse hello. I’m not a loner, I don’t have self-confidence issues, I’m not a person who’s usually at a loss for words. But, in a social situation, where relationship between the talk-ee and talk-er hasn’t yet been fully compounded and boundaries haven’t yet been properly established, where a whole lot of strangers are watching you move for no other reason except that they are there and you are also there…that’s where I need a friend, a mouthpiece or even better, a book to read.
So, next time you go to a party and notice the person on the fringes or in the corner with a book or a phone clutched with knuckles whiter than snow, don’t dismiss the person as a weirdo. She’s probably just having a little trouble finding her place in the jigsaw puzzle that is social interaction. So, go there, say hi, strike up a conversation and maybe, you’ll realise she’s not all that bad; maybe, just maybe, you might even end up with an interesting friend.
Happy talking, mis amigos!