Then my phone began buzzing as a flood of anxious messages got delivered. Everyone, from cousins to friends and colleagues and even ex-flames, seemed distraught at the thought of being restricted for 21 days to their homes. I didn’t reply. I sat back, scratched my belly, and smiled, looking up at the clean outlines of the ceiling fan’s shadow.
It is morally repugnant to take pleasure in another’s discomfort, but it was difficult to resist. It wasn’t my fault—and I really wish the cause wasn’t a global pandemic, but it was sweet to see the tables turned for once.
I am an introvert. The real deal, not a result of heart-break, low self-esteem, posturing or the like. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like engaging with the world, just that I like doing it from my home, without being spoken to. And for years , I have suffered in silence the interminable onslaught of calls, and bells and mails and messages, urging me to connect and have the proverbial “fun" everyone claims they are having.
There’s a friend from college who imposes upon me the very innards of his life: work, love, anxieties, everything, every time we meet. I have never exercised the rude right to shut him up. But he, as has nearly every person I know, never missed a chance to spring the two words that give me heart burns—“Open up!"
Seriously? Ever seen an introvert in a lift? No. Because he’d never wait for you for fear of getting caught together and having to “open up". When I call people, even if it is an urgent call, I am chanting away in my head, please don’t, please don’t, please don’t take this call. Because if they take the call, they’d talk, and once they’re done talking, they’d finally want me to “open up".
I’ve been accused of being snobbish, anti-social, a misanthrope; I’ve been accused of being unfeeling, uninterested, and in need of mental health counselling. “It could be depression, or some kind of withdrawal."
Not for once does the majority of the world consider that my kindred, wherever they are, and I, belong to a particular disposition, which does not relish impromptu performances. We abhor using every opportunity as a stage. We love the proximity of things that hold their shape, and their voices, like a home, like a 50-year-old writing table, like a paper weight. It’s normal. We do not want to be pushed into clapping for the performances of extroverts.
So now, when a terrible misadventure in the microbial world has forced most of India to stay home, I wonder what it must be like for “performers". Suddenly, they will have to face the existential crisis of sharing their chatter with a family that is long tired of clapping for them. They’d have to face that daunting decision of what to eat, and how. They’d soon run out of places to click Instagram pictures at, and will need to resort to virtual backgrounds, or redo the interiors every second day.
I imagine them reading a book. A book, in case one has forgotten, is that rectangular object on the shelf, which beauties and beasts alike place on their laps and post online messages about. I imagine them now trying to embark upon that Ulysses-like adventure of actually opening it, and reading beyond the first few pages.
I am an old-school guy. I like my newspaper and my radio and my TV the way they are meant to be—things you can engage with from a distance. The last few decades have left me fuming, since all of them now demand to be heard, just like the extroverts who engineer them. My mobile phone is full of mails and messages, from over-zealous marketers and media brands concerned for my mental health during these 21 days. The problems that they are anxious to help me address are: “How to work from home", “what asanas to learn for better sleep", “how to stay connected with friends during the lockdown"—and that last one made me grind my teeth.
I suppose these—who are worrying at the thought of familiar faces, food and family—do not realize that this is my idea of heaven. It is the way Eden was designed. Paradise is where the unfamiliar is something happening outside the window. My idea of heaven is the way J.D. Salinger lived and wrote Holden Caulfield into our hearts. One man shut in his room, with only the light and the breeze coming in from the window—one hears that he even had his food slipped in under the door. Or that fantastic dream Holden Caulfield had of going away to a small town, where he’d pretend to be deaf and dumb and work at a gas station.
To us, who have been so often misjudged, reviled and forced into the glare, these 21 days of lockdown mean something different. We’ll be praying for things to get better in the world, but deep, deep inside, seeing extroverts squirm in their homes, we’d murmur, it’s the introvert’s revenge, and chuckle. Very softly.
Arvind Joshi is a Delhi-based poet and artist and holds a day job as COO, Imarti Media