I detest cliched phrases. The one I dislike most is ‘Last but not least’, closely followed by a few others, one of which is ‘Man is a social animal’.
How do you like first-time visitors? Imagine you are out sauntering on the road, no purpose in mind, enjoying a tranquil, moonlit winter evening and hoping to come back to a warm house, to immerse yourself in a book you are eager to finish. You are in no mood for other company but your own thoughts, and rather look forward to one of these rare, carefree evenings of uninterrupted bliss.
Alas! When you approach the door to your house, you hear voices. Female voices you’ve never heard before. Slightly curious, but not enthusiastic, you enter to find a neighbour all eagerness to meet you and forward the acquaintance that developed in the course of an earlier introduction. She is accompanied by her college-going daughter.
And now I relieve you of the burden of imagination, because the people I mention are not likely to arouse everybody’s resentment (strong word, I seek a milder); indeed, I am probably making you wonder what you are in for, and if my manners towards people I hardly know are as frigid as an iceberg in the Arctic Circle.
Not really. I am warm and hospitable when in my best moods. But I wish you luck if you happen to visit me, for the first time, when my indolence is at its height, and there are other things I would much rather be doing than entertaining company. Coming back to these neighbours of mine, I was forced to smile and be polite much against my inclination that evening, for I was waiting to get back to my book. So this girl started talking to me, having been brought by her mother with kind intentions, so she could know me and we could be friends, being of the same age. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong day.
Anything that she said was likely to get on my nerves. I couldn’t help replying in monosyllables, and then, after a few sentences, there was nothing more to be said. My mother and hers, who had been keeping up some kind of conversation, also seemed at a loss to know what to talk about. Now such periods of silent inactivity often make the participants in the ‘conversation’ look foolish, and I have had a friend bursting into intermittent giggles when such a pause once happened in her presence. Aware that we would look extremely funny to any by-standers (not that there was anyone (un)lucky enough to witness our lively party), I tried to say something, and this time she replied in monosyllables.
For one whole hour, we kept up this sham of a conversation. She told me she liked to read, but we couldn’t find any common ground there as her tastes and mine seemed almost diametrically opposite. I broached the topic of ragging in college. She said something which seemed to advocate the ‘sport’ as a mandatory ice-breaker (rubbish!), and as I am totally against ragging in any form, I replied rather tersely, making my stand on the subject very clear. A moment later, I began wondering if I should have spoken so strongly to a guest, to a girl I hardly knew. I can’t say I repented it, but my temporarily-dormant niceness did come to the fore after much struggle against the demons that were tormenting me that day, and I was more cordial the rest of the evening.
After much floundering, mother and daughter finally left- to nobody’s regret, I should say. They invited us very cordially to visit them sometime. Please don’t remind my mother that she promised she would, because the invitation includes me. There is some truth in the theory of first impressions being the best (to use a cliché). The girl might be a paragon of virtue, a most agreeable companion, but I am not destined to know if she is. I have never really felt like trying to cultivate my acquaintance with her. Blame it on my disagreeableness, but when you feel a fit of perversity coming on, you have to succumb to it. Do I hear you grumbling at my nature? I assure you, most of the time I am as angelic as can be. But I believe there are these untamed demons inside all of us that unleash their power when they oughtn’t to, and curbing them requires superhuman self-restraint, which perhaps only the most forbearing and experienced can achieve.
To repeat what everybody probably knows: Just in case you happen to come across inexplicable behaviour, do remember that it might just be a passing fit. In all probability, if you are disgruntled by somebody’s conduct, you will be treated beyond your best expectations by the same person another time, perversity having long been replaced by repentance. Clichés are not always entirely true.