“A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.”
Going by the above definition, ours is an extremely civil society. We do not mind eccentricities – we discuss them, pamper them and at times joke about them…but we do not discard them at all.
While reading a PG Wodehouse book one evening, this thought came to my mind about eccentricities- the so called sprinklings of madness each one of us has. Have you noticed how almost all Wodehouse characters have these peculiar traits. There are some who steal pigs, others who impersonate a psychiatric and my favorite , who paint moustache on the statues (for they like them better that way) . DO they appear unreal to you in anyways? Not to me, for sure. Those of you who have seen Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie) would remember how most people around this girl have little eccentricities of their own. There are those who collected torn pictures from the bins, accountants who think they are perpetually ill and hate the words” fruits of thy womb” , some others who sneak at neighbours with a video camera , failed writers who like watching bullfights on TV , rejected lovers who spy while cracking bubble wraps, a waitress who likes to crack bones and even a cat who likes to overhear children’s stories. If you look carefully you’d find that eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride or may be just an habit. Genius and aristocrats are frequently regarded as eccentrics because they are entirely unafraid of and totally unaffected by opinions and vagaries of the crowd. But well, eccentricities are equally divided among all age groups, income groups and gender .
I too am particularly blessed with such people around me. So much so that at times I wonder whether it’s me who is responsible for attracting such characters around me . Oh but god bless them for being how they are…. Life would have been so dull if we had no such characters around. I keep telling them that one is only given a little spark of madness and one must not lose it. Generally I find that people have these happy obsessive preoccupations, and this gives them a significant meaning in life. And they are far healthier than most people because of these traits. It somehow makes them more human, more lovable and more acceptable in my eyes. I had a colleague who had only two interests- Dogs and Indian classical music. That his two interests have no common point never occurred to him. He sings either patriotic or sad songs in parties and loves to cook desserts. Another friend was a compulsive shopper for books- which he hardly ever read. My mom re-arranges fridge racks at least thrice a day and my secretary always smiles his sweetest when one is scolding him. Another colleague cannot help starting every sentence with “ No no- yes yes…ok ok “ and yet another ( a lady), regularly forgets her bag, notebook, even cosmetics in my room and then searches for it everywhere . My hubby knew someone in college who could not reply to a question without repeating the question first . Then there is favorite category of eccentrics - the professors and teachers. Aha...what a collection we had in them. Hubby had one who would bargain as a matter of principle on every small or big item - from rickshaw fare to vegetables and usually ended up paying more than the originally asked price . He bargains , next time again - as a matter of principle .
It’s interesting to watch people closely . A very senior officer of my service once told us how most people in bureaucracy are ophthalmologist- that is “I”- specialists and who love to talk about themselves to no end. It was a wonderful joke and all of us laughed - but then he continued for next 45 minutes explaining “ But then I am not like that. I like to….I do not like to…. And many more ‘I’s ” It was difficult not to find one of other such specimen while I was in Kolkata – the city which takes pride in its eccentricities . I had an accountant who was a practicing tantric, another who did PhD in Latin to read Paradise Lost in original. A boss who used to roll his own cigarettes to save money and another one who thought he was a reborn German soldier of WW-II . Best so far however , was my ex-boss , who loved to edit my drafts by replacing some words with their synonyms. When the fair copy will go to him...he will find yet another synonym. After about 6-7 such "corrections" in 90% cases my original word was back to its place and the boss had a smile of satisfaction pasted on his face which is usually found on gentlemen after a difficult task is achieved with perfection. In the Mussoorie academy we had an economics professor who always started his lecture with “ Suppose this gaaay ( guy) has 100 pepsi bottles…..” and one whose favorite adjective was "atrocious ". Then there is one interesting superior in hubby's office whose favorite phrases are " I do not like to beat my own trumpet" and " I am an artist by nature " . That these are sometimes followed by totally unflattering stories of his career never makes him see the contrast.
I am sure I too have some favorite words something which can be called eccentric . But then I have to rely on others’ for knowledge about that . Once a cousin told me that I am a bathing freak – as I used to take bath 4-5 times a day in summer months . Hubby adds that I am a control freak and mom says I freak out if I see too much stuff in the house and start throwing things in the wastebins. So the common adjective is ‘freak’ and if despite being a freak in one way or the other , if I am being accepted – I am sure ours is a civilized society .
Coming to the genetic aspect of eccentricities , I too with confidence can say like queen Elizabeth , about my family that like all the best families, we have our fair share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters , senile elders and of family disagreements. To begin with the eldest member of the family , my grand uncle , at the age of ninety two gives every one appointment to meet, including his maid and the postman. He even has fixed daily phone appointments with my aunts and uncles With me he holds a weekly appointment over phone …where conversation must end with a santa banta joke. Then I have aunts who watch teary soup operas, discuss them incessantly and then trash them as foolishness. It’s heartening to note that youngsters are also keeping the family flag high. My elder sis loves to visit markets and malls – where her favorite activity is to reject the stuff available on racks . Mind you, the lady is pretty fair in her dealings…she gives chance to all markets and all shops to reject their stuff regularly. Then I have a dear brother in law who hates curds but relishes Dahi bada made up of it . He cannot tolerate smell of mango and loves to drink mango drinks and then his elder brother - my better half, who insists that potatoes cut in round shape taste differently than those cut in finger chips . Sometimes I feel irritated by these habits of my family members but then honestly, life would be pretty dull if all of us have similar habits .
After all, if you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.