Fighting Shyness

Who me? Shy? Ummm… well… Ok.

Yes, I am shy. Extremely shy, in fact.

Do I hear startled, unbelieving gasps? Yes, this is one of my best-kept secrets. I’ve been told before that I do quite a credible job of covering it up. You see, cover-up is one of the best defenses against shyness… with a successful cover-up, you can almost believe it yourself.

I learnt the cover-up act on my first job – as a journalist. Well, you can’t be a reporter and still be shy – not if your first story involves going to Priya cinema in Delhi and asking college boys standing around there what they think of girls with muscles  (can you imagine?).

Shyness for me, is an extreme reluctance to put myself on show. It could be stage fright, presentation jitters, or just speaking up in front of people I hardly know. Naturally, it is exacerbated by having unconventional or unorthodox views, and since I usually do have unconventional or unorthodox views this is a frequent situation. Rather than bely my beliefs, I prefer to keep quiet, but if called upon to speak, or if it is something I feel I can’t keep quiet about, then I do speak – honestly, but with great trepidation.

Despite the trepidation I’ve been told that I come across with a certain air of authority (sometimes even when it’s a subject I know nothing about, like making tea!) which makes people listen to me. This is a skill born of interviewing big people on subjects you know nothing about. Like tyres and engine oils. Early in my journalistic career, I used to have to do these interviews with top guys in MRF or Castrol. And I had to come across like I knew something. I remember rehearsing my questions as I drove across Delhi to get to the interviews. And receiving answers as though I had known them all along. I guess I learned the art well.

I also learned to “psyche” myself. For music rehearsals, for instance, when I felt extremely nervous, especially in front of a new group of musicians where I felt myself not only the newcomer but also the rookie, I used to keep telling myself, “You’re the best. Of course you can do it. Just play. Just concentrate. Just count. You’re as good as anyone else.” Believe me, it helped.

Shyness essentially means extreme self-consciousness and I suffer from this even now. For instance with my new bike. I felt painfully self-conscious being a woman (and an old one, at that) trying out, learning and riding a “man’s bike”. I made sure I reached office early for weeks, so that nobody I knew would see me riding in.

In years gone by, I used to hate having to ask where the toilet is in a strange place; and heading towards it, with (as I thought) all eyes on me was enough to cause my face and neck to go red with embarassment.

Even now, I hate being the only woman in a swimsuit on a beach.

I feel trememdously reluctant to expose my body, even by wearing sleeveless shirts, shorts and the like.

Yet, if I am on a beach, I will be in a swimsuit, unshaven limbs and all, and I’ll forget about my self-consciousness in a few minutes and enjoy myself like nobody’s business. And I can tell or hear the most vulgar jokes without batting an eyelash. And nowadays when I’m driving I don’t even realize I’m on a “man’s” bike, far less registering any strange looks I may be getting.

I hate to visit new places, especially if I’m alone. Like a new bank or post office, or petrol bunk or even a new route to a known place. A new way of doing things is scary: it’s full of opportunities of getting it wrong and somehow making a mess of things.

Yet… I love to travel, even if I must do so alone. Strange.

Being noticeable – or laughable – in any way is always a painful experience. That’s why I’ve never acquired any degree of fluency in Kannada or Bengali. Having learned these languages as an adult, I make lots of mistakes and I feel shy to reveal my weakness, to make mistakes and possibly to be laughed at.

Which is one of the reasons I’ve taken up German. It’s only by doing it that one can do it, if you know what I mean. And so, I want to learn at least one language as an adult, where I get over the fear of making silly mistakes. So far the German class has provided exactly the right environment. I’m not shy to be the joker in the pack: the first to volunteer for all those activities where you’re most likely to make mistakes and become the laughing stock. Yes, I get laughed at, and I laugh along and I enjoy it! This is quite a revelation for me.

Last but not least in my shyness attributes is my aversion to meeting new people. More gasps? Well, it’s true. I’m uncomfortable with people until I get to know them well, and I get to know them well only very slowly. Seriously… think about how long it took for me to become good friends with any of you. The flip side is that once I get to know people, I’m totally comfortable with them and quite unselfconscious. Which is why you never suspect the shyness underneath.

And this is the person who created a reign of terror in KF. Who went off wandering the Himalayas for three months alone. Who learnt to ride horses and fall off them like a cat with nine lives. Who went river rafting with a gang of nine guys (and wore a swimsuit almost the entire two days).

Yes, this is she. She is shy, true, but she doesn’t let it stop her from getting what she really wants. Isn’t that great?

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