(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 30 May 2009)
“May I join you?”
The four most dreaded words in the English language. What makes them worse, is they’re always trilled out in bright, happy notes just when your nose is blurring into the fine print of a book that’s gripped your attention for most of the previous night. So you’ve managed to grab enough time to eat, and the only person you really want to spend it with is Wodehouse…or Rushdie…or Tharoor…or Murakami…or Kundera. But, out of nowhere, pops someone with whom the most profound conversations you’ve had involve the vagaries of the weather, and you’re forced to subject geographical and geological factors to more intense scrutiny.
I’ve considered walking around with a board that reads:
Misanthrope (noun, Genum: Homosapien, Species: solitudus eros) – a particular breed of human being that finds the society of other beings of its genum repulsive; averse to company. Often misunderstood, not left alone at mealtimes despite obvious hints to intruders of its privacy. Usually gravitates towards other beings of the species solitudus eros, is unfriendly to other varieties of its genum.’
But that, of course, could defeat its own purpose by turning into another conversation-starter; one that promises to be more entertaining to the Intruder of Privacy than the weather. What would exacerbate the situation infinitely would be the Intruder of Privacy counting itself into the species Solitudus Eros, and claiming kinship with the Misanthrope Order.
That said, I do have some genuine theists of the Misanthrope Order among my acquaintances. We lunch alone together, and shudder at the thought of intrusion. The camaraderie of the shared apprehension motivates us to, sometimes, go so far as to lay aside our newspapers and novels for up to five minutes at a time.
While Misanthropes-Who-Have-Come-Out usually only elicit curious glances from Habitual Intruders of Privacy, who find it hard to digest the sight of two Believers of the Misanthrope Order in conversation, there is a more dangerous species. The Closet-Misanthrope-In-Denial is usually extraordinarily friendly to Habitual Intruders of Privacy, and can initiate ace conversations about the weather, shoes and hair accessories. One of my closest friends happens to belong to this Order of Misanthropes. Her undying hope for humankind allows her to believe her frivolous conversations with Habitual Intruders will be mundane enough to cure them of their unhealthy leanings.
It was on one such occasion, when we were involved in a deeply spiritual discussion on the men in one of our lives, that a bright, happy person walked up to us and trilled, “hi! I’ve not seen you both for a long time!”
“We usually keep ourselves hidden,” I said, having come out in the open a couple of decades ago.
The Intruder giggled and joined us.
“So how’ve you been? I’ve not seen you either!” my Closet Misanthrope friend blurted out, nervously.
“I’m busy, yaar, always. But where have you been?”
“On leave. For three weeks. She just came in to lunch with me, and she’ll go back home again,” I said darkly.
Intelligence is not usually the Habitual Intruder’s forte. The conversation quickly shifted to the Habitual Intruder’s complexion, how her face might be too immature for people to associate her with gravitas, and how that could affect her career.
A more chivalrous woman with an instinct to protect would have made up a phone call, an emergency meeting or a systems collapse that required our presence at a distant location.I went with, “stimulating as this conversation is, I’m sort of bored out of my skull. So if you’d excuse me.”
The day went down in history as the first time a Lone-Luncher has effectively cured a Habitual Intruder.