Frankly, My Dear, I (no longer) gIve a DaMn!

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

ISPENT MOST of my life as a peo­ple pleaser. As a child, I was that an­noy­ing, prissy lit­tle one who ac­tu­ally vol­un­teered to sit in the front row; who raised her hand to an­swer a ques­tion even be­fore the teacher had fin­ished ask­ing it; who ac­tu­ally asked for home­work; who swot­ted through the night be­fore ex­ams. All be­cause I des­per­ately wanted to please my par­ents/my teach­ers/any other sig­nif­i­cant adult in the hope that this would make them love me.

Noth­ing much changed when I turned into a young adult. When my friends were cut­ting classes in col­lege and get­ting up to no good at col­lege fes­ti­vals and late-night par­ties, I was too busy play­ing the clever­est girl in class.

I de­voured my en­tire read­ing list in a week; I handed in ev­ery es­say on time; and when it came to class­room dis­cus­sions on Chaucer or Shake­speare or Marvel or Yeats, you sim­ply could not shut me up. Need­less to say, my teach­ers loved me (you can­not imag­ine my hap­pi­ness when one of them re­ferred to me as “a ray of joy”). But, for some un­fath­omable rea­son, it did not make me very There was never a lame wit­ti­cism I failed to laugh at. And there was never a mo­ment when I truly re­laxed and en­joyed my­self, so anx­ious was I to get it right.

I can still re­mem­ber the mo­ment when it fi­nally dawned on me that I was play­ing it all wrong. Then in my early 30s, I had been in­vited to a black-tie din­ner hosted by a great cham­pagne house. And as a mark of great favour, I was seated next to one of the wine mak­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, though he was un­doubt­edly a dab hand at blend­ing grapes, he didn’t have much by way of con­ver­sa­tion. And it didn’t help that his English, rudi­men­tary as it was, was al­most in­com­pre­hen­si­ble be­cause of his French ac­cent.

None­the­less, I per­se­vered in my usual way to keep the con­ver­sa­tional ball rolling. But 10 min­utes into the din­ner, hav­ing met with mono­syl­labic re­sponses, I asked my­self: Why are you both­er­ing to do this? You will never meet this man again in your life. He is plainly un­in­ter­ested or un­able to keep a di­a­logue go­ing. So why are you try­ing so hard?

I thought about these ques­tions in one of those con­ver­sa­tional lulls I had al­ways felt obliged to fill. And then, I gave my­self per­mis­sion not to try so hard. I stopped talk­ing. I ate my food, I drank the ex­cel­lent cham­pagne, and I told my­self that I didn’t care if this fa­mous wine­maker thought I was rude. And you know what, after a mo­ment, I truly didn’t.

You can­not be­gin to imag­ine just how lib­er­at­ing that was. From that mo­ment on, I retired my peo­ple-pleas­ing self and de­cided that the only peo­ple I would ever care about are my fam­ily (well, at least, those mem­bers who I could still bear to be in a room with) and my friends (you know who you are). Other than this small group, I could not be both­ered to be charm­ing or en­dear­ing. Of course I would be po­lite, so long as it was pos­si­ble. But that was all I was pre­pared to of­fer, in ad­di­tion to un­flinch­ing hon­esty.

Thus it was that when a friend in­vited me to one of the events her guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, was pre­sid­ing over, I didn’t say yes just to please her. In­stead I of­fered her the truth. Thanks so much, I said, but I’m re­ally not into all this spir­i­tual stuff. She was star­tled for a mo­ment. But then she laughed good­na­turedly and said, “Ah, well, at least you are hon­est about your feel­ings!” And strangely enough, there was no threat­en­ing clap of thun­der, the heav­ens didn’t fall down, and we con­tinue to be friends to this day.

As the old say­ing goes, we would all stop wor­ry­ing about what peo­ple thought about us if we re­alised how sel­dom they do. I am only sorry that it took me half my life to learn that les­son.

After a life­time of peo­ple­pleas­ing, it is in­cred­i­bly lib­er­at­ing to not care what any­one else thinks

For more SPEC­TA­TOR col­umns by Seema Goswami, log on to hin­dus­tan­ Fol­low her on Twitter at

PUT YOUR­SELF FIRST I retired my peo­ple-pleas­ing self and de­cided the only peo­ple I would ever care about are my fam­ily and friends. I would be po­lite, so long as it was pos­si­ble.

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