So, you think you know where I am coming from. You label me. You don’t say it aloud, you don’t have to. The implied can speak volumes.
I am far from being non-judgmental too. I try not to be, and it takes a lot of effort to come out of my own confined perspective, step out of the sidewalk, march onto the other side and know what it is actually like to be someone else. It’s tedious, but worth it. Opinions are created in a jiffy. I like you. I don’t like you. Opinions are based on others’ opinions. Why bother to know for yourself? Who has the time?
When I was posted as an intern at the Nephrology Department, I was overworked and constantly irritated. A 40 year old man who was admitted for dialysis. Every morning, after the clinical rounds, he tried to tell me about his life, his job as a school teacher, his daughter and his political views. I reluctantly indulged these conversations for the first two days. Then I avoided him. He felt confused and hurt by the sudden restraint in my demeanor. But I justified it to myself that I can’t always have a sunny disposition or have enough time for every single patient I encounter. His continued attempts to converse with me irritated me enough on the fourth day and I told him quite coldly, “Well, unlike you, I have work to do.” I had already formed an opinion about him in my mind, a social leech. He didn’t bother to talk to me after that. I cringed inwardly but I just let it be. I came in to the ward at 9pm for the night duty. I found him asleep, and tiny hands wrapped around his neck in an embrace, as his daughter cuddled next to him. My heart melted. It was the exact way I cuddle up to my father. This man was a devoted father, loved his family, and tried to keep upbeat during his illness. I had hastily decided he was unworthy of being heard based on few minutes of interaction. I knew it was unfair and felt ashamed. This is just a minor example. We do it more often than we are aware of. Every single day.
A friend is a highly accomplished journalist and social activist. She travels into dreaded jungles, meets Maoists, sleeps on their cot and eats the food they cook. She traded heels for sturdy chappals, traveled all over the country and raised her voice for the unheard. She recently got accepted into a fellowship abroad and found love there. I am glad to see her so ecstatic, cherishing the changes in her personal life. But her well-wishers cluck in unison how Umreeka has changed her, she thinks about her own petty wishes now! Well, dear well-wisher and armchair activist, what she had done in the past five years,we won’t be able to do in a lifetime. She has every right to enjoy her youth, rise in love or wear heels. Why can’t she? Just because you have labeled her as a jhola-slinging, chappal-wearing, opinionated woman meant to work forever in the grassroots level. Let her choose the direction of her life, the only one we get! And if you talk about change as scandalous, I salute you for being the only person who had resisted the tempting winds of change from the moment you were born. Good for you.
Changes shape our lives. We love, we falter, we make mistakes, we hurt, we get hurt, we lie, we rise…it’s a never-ending roller-coaster ride. I have changed dramatically over the years. Not always for the better. But you see only what you want to see. You are boring, you say. Yes, I can’t giggle for hours or talk about vampire novels. You are a pushover. I believe in doing all I can towards the people in my life. You are fat, you say. I am glad you noticed my curves, no stuffings! You are ugly too. Thanks for making me feel insecure about the way I look all throughout my childhood and adolescence. Last year at a class reunion, all the girls were made to stand on a podium and the boys were asked to name their favorite girl. It was sexist, but done in good fun. But I felt trapped and very uncomfortable. I lurked behind the other girls, not daring to even look up. I knew no one was going to say my name, but I didn’t know how to prepare my face for that eventuality. Then I heard someone shout my name. It was a classmate of mine, someone I barely knew; someone I had made an opinion about as being haughty based on his measured words and frightening intelligence. He must have sensed my discomfiture, and relived me of it. I felt deeply grateful towards him and regretted my earlier opinion. Hasty opinions lead us to go through life in an uncalled for straitjacket manner.
What do you know about me? Were you privy to my childhood and adolescence? Do you know what makes me cry? What makes me snort with laughter? What do I treasure? What I abhor? What are my dreams? Why do I talk less? When can’t I stop talking? What scares me? What have I lost? What have I learnt? How I spend a quiet evening at home? Have I loved? What am I looking for?
You don’t know. Yet, you judge me. Hmmm.