“Dilli jake bigad gayi hai. Pehle toh sahi thi. (Delhi ruined her. She was fine before going there.)”
This is one label I had managed to dodge for a long time. The toxic social fabric we are woven into leaves little to no room for diverse individualities, and certainly not for change. For the most part of my life, I was the archetypal goody two shoes. Part of it was my INFP personality, part the pressure to conform to society’s standards. Hence, I never learnt to embrace or explore any other parts of my personality – just masking it the best I could. Despite having few friends, I was quite ‘socially acceptable’.
When I came to Delhi, my life took a complete 360-degree turn. My passion for liberal arts after taking PCM in intermediate didn’t sit well with many people. They still ask my parents why they needed to send me to Delhi (you know, the diabolical city that steals the innocence of young girls and turns them into hate-spewing, shorts-wearing feminazis). Fortunately, my parents never cared. For a long time, I felt everyone was waiting for me to return to my hometown with my metaphorical tail tucked between my legs. Nonetheless, I persisted.
As I started exploring different things, I felt more at peace with my introverted, socially anxious self. I did things that pushed my comfort zone. I had dreadful experiences from catcalling to being stranded, things I had previously been kept protected from. But, I learnt to be self-dependent too. I believe the first major step that I ever took for myself was to come out of a toxic friendship. The result being ‘boycotted amongst my judgmental social peers’.
My image turned from a ‘sweetheart’ to an ‘abrasive’ girl who thinks she is above everyone else. People who previously admired me started sneering at me because I felt the need to isolate myself in order to cope with life. Widening my social consciousness led me to restart my writing. I started voicing my opinions too. Typical ‘leftist behaviour’. One common thing I heard in every discussion was, “Ab toh tum JNU wali ho gayi (Now you’ve become a JNU-ite).”
I had some of my own friends say, “Having an opinion is fine. You don’t need to be so bold about it.”
Society, as a whole, I’ve come to understand, is paradoxical in nature. It wants its women to be docile, but not introverted. Socially pleasing, but not outgoing. Strong and sacrificing, but not self-dependent and assertive. Visible, but only on the fringes.
It frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t be all of those things without restricting myself to either category. Whenever I didn’t want to attend a social gathering, I was reminded that my parents’ likability rests solely on mine. I hated that my parents had to make excuses for their socially inept daughter. Because my choice didn’t matter.
I’m still labelled an attention seeker and my social anxiety is mistaken for arrogance. On several occasions, my parents felt that maybe giving me more freedom to explore my inner self was wrong. Because ‘loners’ are never accepted.
My need for isolation doesn’t mean I don’t value anyone or I don’t want to get out of my problems. I am dealing with them sedately. I’m still learning that my introversion doesn’t need to limit my vociferousness. That silence is also a way of dissent. Shaming or guilt-tripping me won’t change this. Yes, the judgments still hurt somewhere, especially for an over-thinker like me. But, I have learnt not to let it bother me anymore. I’d rather be happy than be ‘sudhri hui (fixed)’. My convictions will change only if they are wrong, not because people are uncomfortable. I don’t want to be ‘ideal’ anymore, I’d rather be ‘real’.