Friday, November 11, 2011

Listening without Lending ears*

One often thinks that how rarely one meets right sort of people to talk, interact and have stimulating or boring conversations, so to say. Day after day passes without speaking as such but just mouthing empty words. In the process conversations become so unsurprising and predictable that you can do it just like brushing your teeth in the morning. You can do that even with your eyes closed so as not to lose but hold on to that precious dream that you dreamt a while ago. You humbly remember Caulfield and gingerly agree that he was right. Few people know how to converse. People are such lousy conversationists. This is what he said, right. I am not talking here about discussions, arguments, debates that widen your perspective and make you feel elated from inside as if you’ve grown an inch taller and gained an ounce more of grey matter. I am not even talking about casual interaction that say, you might have had with a cab driver or somebody on the net which gave you several reasons to smile about. When was the last time I had a good conversation. Oh god…I thought it would not be so difficult to recall. Anyway let me put the blame on oldage and amnesia.
All I do in the office is talk pretty non-sense all the time, now it has become all the more difficult since I don’t understand Malayalam and of the 9 people in office, two can understand English and if both of them are on leave I feel exactly like Crusoe! So cursing one and everyone, I was sitting grumpily in the office when this man who must be over 50 ( which I calculated after he left) but looked anywhere between 35-45 walked in apparently to give a letter or something. You know, when you are bored in life you prolong any distraction even if it’s a lousy and pointless distraction like TV and take double the time than what you normally take to do simple works like reading a letter. So  while I was taking my own sweet time to read the letter, I heard him say ‘Its good’. Now looking at him with a quizzical eye, I asked ‘sorry, what did you say?’ Pointing to something on the table he repeated his choice word of praise. Like a parrot, I thought I should think because I have heard that phrase but never seen a parrot actually doing that repeating trick. When I saw what he was pointing at, a grin which I thought I had left in Bangalore spread over my face. Because on my table was this pencil sketch which I had done only the day before after hours of hard work.


Tell me, its human nature to gloat and bloat when you are praised and appreciated. Tell me, theres nothing perverse about it. Because that is what I did when I realized that some stranger had paid tribute to my workmanship even though he was seeing it from some 2 feet distance. I have always loved this phrase ‘self-effacing bureaucrat’ and maybe I became a bureaucrat so that I can act self-effacingly!  So with that fancy smile I accepted the praise and in my mind I had already seen myself graduating from pencil sketch to charcoal sketching (since the telangana strike was all about coal, there is no dearth of charcoal anyway) and was on the verge of organising an exhibition when my reverie was broken. ‘Its Steppenwolf, isn’t it? ‘, he said. It was more of a statement than a question. The man raised a notch higher in my eyes. 'Wow', I thought, 'this man not only has the faculty to appreciate my talent but also knows about Hesse'.
'Yes', I said and added 'thank you'. 'The book is very good', he said as if taken aback by my gratitude and feeling sorry for the misunderstanding. 'I read Steppenwolf long ago during my college days, it was during Emergency’, he added. My immediate reaction was to find out whether all along he was referring to the book. But I didn't do that. If I had asked he would have obviously stated sketch is also good. Theres no point in fishing compliments from strange visitors, is there? So I had to appear unworried and complacent, few more qualities of an everyday bureaucrat. The man would not stop. People who are getting old never stop recounting their experiences especially their college and post-college life incidents and accidents. He had read Siddartha, Steppenwolf and also the The Glass Bead Game but liked Steppenwolf the best. He also told me to read the works of some other writer and fell silent. Now it was my turn to say something or ask something. We always listen without lending ears. After listening for over five minutes the first thing I wanted to ask was ‘Do you think Hesse was gay?’ I almost asked him. Just imagine, all the while I was complaining to noone in particular about lack of people who can talk sense and there I was when confronted a man who had read all the works of Hesse and what else, who knows, and all I could think of saying or rather asking him was that. Of course, good sense prevailed and like an academic I asked ‘why do you think Steppenwolf is Hesse's best?’ knowing that I was least interested in knowing. Fortunately he didn’t go analyzing the book like I expected him to do but evaded the question saying that in those rebellious years the book had made some kind of impact.
After he left, I thought I found the answer for Caulfield's riddle!

*An extension to Sound of Silence lyrics, if I can say like that!

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