A few days ago, I bumped into an old friend. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he asked me what I was up to. So I told him about how I just started a new job. When he asked me if I enjoyed it, I candidly replied that I did not. Upon hearing it, he instantly hesitated. He looked visibly surprised at my candor. I really did not understand why, though. He could not digest the unpleasantness that came along with my honesty.
Having been born and brought up in Gujarat, the most common question you can come across is, “Kem cho, majama?” The answer you give is, more often than not, a reflex. You do not really think about it. “Majama”. But then there are bad days, and worse timings when someone asks you that quintessential Gujarati question, and you say, “Nathi Majama.” These are the days when you realize the person asking is not prepared for honesty.
People always want to be perceived as “nice”. So they ask you how you are. But the superficiality of their niceness reflects only when they encounter a response beyond their comfort zone. Such conversations make me realize that we are getting decreasingly capable of anything but small talk. We are only interested in making someone feel that we care, irrespective of whether or not we actually do.
Even if we talk to someone for longer than a minute, it is always about current affairs, our studies, our job, a movie we watched, or just meaningless gossip. We never really sit down and talk to someone about their feelings. Why?
This poem perfectly describes how, from the time we are children, are taught to avoid talking about our problems. We become awkward in the face of reality and prefer to avoid actual conversations.
Everything’s fine. That is what we always say.
Even if we do pick up the courage to talk about our feelings, who will be there to listen? Does anyone care?
We, as a species, have been endowed with arguably a unique gift. The gift of intelligible speech. Yet, we seem to be wasting it on small talk. When it comes to actually caring about someone before asking them how they really are, we pretend at best. We avoid conversation that goes beyond three sentences.
Off lately, I think twice before saying that I’m not okay, not because I am scared that the other person may ask why, but because they might not. Ask me if I am “majama” only if you are able to handle a raw and unabashed conversation. If you are not, I promise you, I will not ask you either but please, spare me the pretense.
The Gift of Speech: Too Small for Small Talk? has been edited by Aashna Kanuga