A Lesson In Self-Assertion

'Group of Masai warriors, Africa.' Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
‘Group of Masai warriors, Africa.’
Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My friend and I were walking past the main gate of our college towards Vaishali restaurant. I remarked, “Its my life…”, is such a great number and it neatly sums up the attitude of today’s youth. Even I appreciate it too and after twelve years of school when I was ordered about, I sure want a change. But then all is not well at college too.”

“Why what happened?” asked my friend with a note of concern in his voice.

So I told him the story that had tested my skill in being diplomatic. “The other day a college mate proposed that we go for a matinée flick at Alka theater. I was not feeling very keen then so turned down the offer saying I was short of cash. Guess he was very interested since he proposed to treat me to the movie as well. I refused again but became rather defensive and said that I rarely watch movies. The same evening I ran into couple of my friends and impromptu we decided to watch the same movie at Alka. I went along without much thought. And just my luck that I ran into the guy who too had come to watch the same movie. The next day he greeted me with a studied gaze and a stony silence. I found it a bit tricky to handle and didn’t know how to explain it to him that there was really no plan and the outing just happened.”

“Oh Vijay! You need to grow up now. How can you let people walk all over you?” retorted my friend.

“Well twelve years of similar experiences certainly helps. I was always quiet and subdued as a child. I remember my cousin who was very naughty and mischievous. Full of tricks he was. And during a grand family get-together one of my aunts openly admired him for being so active and bright while I was said to be a ‘good sort who is so shy and silent.”(‘Saadu and Chamathu pillai’ were the very words for anyone who understands our Agraharam Tamil bashai).

“Yes, that’s the trouble with you. You are not assertive enough.” Guess people would never stop making snap judgments.

“Well, I felt that my options were kind of closed. I can see how it would have looked from his point of view. And it I had been aggressive and argued about it, I am sure he would have clammed up and that would have ruined our relationship.”

“You would be better off without such a friend”, said my friend.

“But aren’t friends supposed to understand each other’s feelings. And should we ‘make-and-break-up’ over one silly argument?”, I queried.

“Well you have a point”, my friend finally admitted. “But remember people usually like to have the cake and eat it too. You need to be on the guard and never give in one inch. I remember once being caught between two such guys in the restaurant wrangling on what we should order. Don’t be a pushover. Even in small matters you should be seen to be the master of your fate and captain of your soul. So make your choice and decide even things like whether you want to have tea or coffee.” he said with air of certain finality to close the subject.

It did sound sensible and empowering. I resolved to act of his advice and my mind began to fill in with ideas where I could assert my choice. We had reached Vaishali by now. The waiter came up, and turned to my friend who responded nonchalantly, “Do idli-wada sambhar aur do chai. Zara jaldi karna.” (Two snacks and teas in a jiffy). Then he waved his hand to dismiss the waiter.

And I was left watching the afternoon traffic go by.

The article appeared on Feb 27 1997 under ‘The Middle’ column in a local newspaper ‘Maharashtra Herald’ in Pune, India. I have referred my notes to restore the sequence as it was smashed up to meet the word limit.

I am reminded of the Phil Benholme character from ‘The Soft Detective’ by H R F Keating who is berated by his wife for having understood her to death and hence repulsed her affections. She even taunts him by calling him ‘see-all-sides-Benholme’. And he muses that during their courtship she used to admire him for the same trait and say, “you always think before you go judging anybody.”

On the balance, while it may seem to look a softer option when you go a little easy with others, it works out better as all relationships find an equilibrium and the person with the ‘short fuse’ is rather emotional and gets easily manipulated and maneuvered than someone with a cool ‘head’.  

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