“Why is he like this?
Why does he shy away so much?
He needs to go out and talk to people.”
I reckon I was about 8 years old when I first overheard my parents have this conversation with each other. Suffice to say, I was the subject of this rather perplexing dilemma that they were facing. Although I didn’t understand why they were so concerned back then, perhaps today as a parent, I do. My parents are quite social, rather affable and easy to make conversation with. I wouldn’t quite paint them with the brush of very talkative extroverts, but they did not mind being around people, welcoming them home or indulging in general chit-chat.
Me, on the other hand, and it would not be too much of a stretch if I said this, would have qualified as a complete recluse.
As a child, I struggled to make friends. Despite the fact that most people in my school knew me by virtue of the fact that my mother taught there for several years, I was never a popular kid. And frankly, I didn’t care. Because I was quite happy to be one of those who seamlessly blended into the shadows just going about doing his work. In fact, most days I dreaded being called out for anything. Fun fact - if I spotted my class or schoolmates in a supermarket or a departmental store, I would hide between the aisles till they went past. So, as you can see, my parents were perennially flummoxed by this almost anti-social kid that they had.
Fast forward to the year 1996. It was the year that I discovered FRIENDS.
The discovery itself was quite accidental because I had limited access to any kind of English television show. In fact, my then-best friend would record the show on a VHS tape and he would secretly smuggle them into class, and pass it to me. These videotapes only recorded about 130 minutes or so on them and were expensive. So I would hurriedly watch them, and then return it to my friend, who would then record the following 4 or 5 episodes the following week. And all throughout, one thought always reigned supreme.
"I want to be like Chandler Bing.”
I guess most people who’ve watched and enjoyed FRIENDS would have said that at some point. And it’s not difficult to see why. Who wouldn’t? Of course, now people call him overrated and such (I still disagree with ’these’ people), but the character was such a delight. Because he was unassumingly funny with his sarcasm, satire, quips and mannerisms. He was relatable, and we liked that.
You may find this odd to hear, but it’s true. But, as a single-child who was a passionate introvert with a general aversion to being within 2 feet of a crowd, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Chandler Bing became an almost-role-model like figure for me. Not that my parents weren’t good role-models, but this sitcom character was everything that I aspired to one day become.
But there were two rather big barriers that stood in my way. One, I wasn’t a funny person. Or at least I didn’t think I was. Two - I was going to have to break out of the security of this introvert shell and be able to talk to people.
So, I did what I thought was the best thing to do at that point. I compartmentalised all those thoughts, and went about being that kid who shied away from everything. That kid grew up into a confused and under-confident 20-year-old. And then the Internet happened. Okay, the internet happened a while before that, but what I really meant is, ‘Social Media’ happened. And I slowly started to become more ‘technologically social’.
Fast forward to the present,
Almost two decades, numerous online avatars and some amount of social-media recognition later, I think I can say with a moderate amount of certainty, that I finally de-compartmentalised those aspirations that I once hid away.
Or at least I thought I could. And then reality, being the cruel bitch that it is, sucker-punched me.
‘Oh, he’s sort of boring.’
'He’s not really that funny in person.’
‘I’m sure somebody else does his social media updates for him. This can’t be the same the person!’
All three of those statements have been made by very real ‘flesh-and-blood’ people, who have had (I must add: the unfortunate pleasure, by the looks of it) of meeting me in person. There are quite a few other unflattering comments too, but hey, who needs all that negativity. If I said that none of those statements or overheard snippets of conversation hurt me, there’s a version of puffy-eyed-from-crying me that would probably disagree. And you know what, I don’t blame them entirely either.
Because, in many ways, it forces me to seek the answer to a question that I’ve delayed asking myself for years. Mostly because I was always scared of the answer. Nevertheless, It’s always been there in the back of my head. And in a weird way, I sort of felt I could see Chandler Bing shaking his head at me in disapproval, and asking:
‘Are you funny at all, Sid?’
The truth, quite simply is, I don’t know.
Most people that I’ve met in the past five years hardly recognise me by name or face. But they do recognise me by my social media handles or blog address. And then over drinks, dinner and general chit chat, I realise there is a kind of FBI-esque scrutiny going on. They’re quietly analysing and comparing the person they’ve known from tweets, statuses, blog posts and boxed online profile pictures to this new avatar standing in front of them. And something seems different. He isn’t like what they’d imagined he would be. He’s just plain and normal. Just like anybody else.
And then invariably, I smile.
I smile as I see the disappointed look on their faces when my offline persona sometimes doesn’t live up to my online one.
I smile as I realise that these days, your online and offline avatars are so intertwined that if you don’t match, you are essentially considered a fraud.
I smile because they don’t know how long it took for me to get here, letting go of inhibitions of that little kid who would hide away in the aisles of a supermarket to someone who, despite knowing fully well that he’s likely to make a mockery of himself, will still take the stage when he’s called upon.
And maybe, this will help you realise that I am all of those things. The Internet-Funny, the IRL-silent, the stammering public speaker, the confident keyboard warrior. And every other hat I've worn. All of it.
I smile because this is me.