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Friday, February 08, 2013

'I don't really know you'

There is a girl who used to be a pupil of mine more than a decade ago (I call them girls and boys, though technically all of them are grown men and women now, and some even like to affect that they are very worldly wise and growing old, but it is impossible for me to forget that when they first came to my classes in their mid-teens, very silly and very ignorant about the world, I had been a teacher for twenty odd years already…). She now lives far away: I haven’t seen her face to face for ages. I was always uncommonly fond of her – maybe I credited her with far more sensitivity and affectionateness than she would herself claim – and I have been in touch with her almost continuously since she left.

I have listened for years and years to her whimsical outbursts, tales of trouble and woe, complications in her love life, academic grouches, career-related uncertainties, family imbroglios, mundane problems with daily living… and I have tried all through to lend an attentive and sympathetic ear, and offer what little advice and help I could. Lots of girls will know what that means, even those with whom I have been corresponding for only two or three years, Rashmi and Vaishnavi and Dipanwita and Sayantika, to name just a few: I wouldn’t even bother to mention the hundreds of old boys who’d say an impassioned ‘Of course!’. Of late, I had been growing irritable and even querulous with her, because I had a feeling I was wasting my time on someone who simply did not want to listen to what I was saying, who was too different a person to vibe with me, who was getting me angry all too often with needlessly callous offhand remarks (lately her uniform excuse has been she can write only from the office, where she is constantly busy and harassed), and who yet kept knocking, if only via email and google chat, for reasons she wouldn’t even care to explain. Very recently I exploded when she wrote ‘I don’t really know you except through your blogs’.  

What does it mean to know somebody? I am almost sure that she is not sophisticated enough to think of making innuendos with Biblical undertones. Then again, it is easy for someone to say ‘I don’t even know myself very well’, and for someone like me, married for seventeen years, to say ‘My wife doesn’t really know me’. These things are fine for occasional idle philosophical speculations, I suppose. But the world doesn’t – couldn’t – function from day to day on the basis of such woolliness, right? Surely, for the sake of all practical purposes any person with whom I have spent hundreds of hours talking/chatting, besides taking classes for two years (given the deeply involved way I teach), should be someone who knows enough about me to carry on dealing with me knowingly (and liking what she knows, if she bothers to keep in touch for years and years)? Besides – and this is directed at all those who claim to have been reading my blogs thoughtfully and consistently for years – is it possible for someone like that to claim ‘I don’t really know you’? Is it possible, on the other hand, that it was meant as a deliberate insult – whether the girl in question admits it even to herself or not? She insists that she can’t understand what I am saying, what has made me so angry. How many will concur with her?

Let me be totally fair to the girl. She has said sorry, almost towards the end of the last chat she wrote ‘… not sure how to take back words, but if I could I would’. Only thing why that cuts no ice with me any more is that she has said that kind of sorry a hundred times before, so it’s become kind of stale. Keeps reminding me of the fool of an employer who, when I exploded in anger, got scared and said ‘If you are so angry then I am sorry’! Only because I was angry and that frightened him, note, not at all because he had admitted to himself that he had done something wrong and was feeling ashamed about it.

So if I now decide, very regretfully (and that’s God’s truth), that I want to forget this girl, to shake her off, to write her out of my life because it’s become a thankless exercise to keep knowing her, how many will say that I am being impatient and intolerant and cruel, that I don’t understand girls and their very special problems and needs? Feel free to comment: no matter how unflattering, I promise to publish everything that comes in except for anonymous messages and pure abuse. If you do write sympathetically (towards me), no expletives please, no wanton female bashing. My overriding feelings are shock, disappointment and sorrow, not rancour. Many girls and women have been kind and good to me, even if they have eventually forgotten and dropped out of my life: I don’t want anybody to forget that, least of all myself.

And since I am waiting eagerly for comments on this one, no further blogposts till I feel that I have got enough. So those of you who are thinking of commenting, don’t hesitate but get going.


Sayan Datta said...

Sir, at the outset I would like to say that I know this among other things about you - you never judge people hastily. Only after due consideration do you make up your mind about someone. I also know for a fact that you give a good degree of leeway to all your interlocutors; along with a huge amount of margin for error. Heck, had I been standing on as high a pedestal as you are, learning and wisdom wise, I daresay I would have lost touch with the common populace. It's a marvel to me how you manage to do all of what you do.

Coming to the girl in question, I think she is guilty of the unforgivable error of having taken you for granted. Not to defend her or anything, it's an all too common human frailty that. But that just shows how little she values you or your advice. It is inconceivable, as far as I am concerned, for a person to keep asking for your advice and your shoulder to weep on and pour out woes to without ever acknowledging you. Acknowledgment not in empty words, but in deeds and conduct. Not to sound chauvinistic or anything, but I do feel girls are far more commonly afflicted with this specific kind of folly than boys.

Sir, I know some extremely busy shopkeepers who never fail to give respect where it's due. What should being busy have to do with anything? How come after being so single-mindedly devoted to your work, your hobby and your family, do you have time for the scores of us who trouble you with personal problems? What prevents you from saying that you are too busy to lend a patient ear?

After thinking long and hard and after making all possible allowances, I understand that the only thing that she could have meant was that she doesn’t know you enough! Whether she knows what she really meant or not is another question; but in all probability it is the latter. I also think she is in denial. Putting myself in the girl’s shoes, I don’t think I could have said such a thing. Firstly, because though I know that you are my friend and guide, I also know that you are my teacher first. So, the question of ever taking you for granted doesn’t arise, however friendly we may become. A relationship needs to be worked on constantly, and it doesn’t help to forget ones place. Secondly, I can only think of saying such a thing to a person I have spoken to only once or twice; and even then my first instinct won’t be to say such a thing, but to try and get to know him as much as possible.

Believe me Sir; it pains me to see you suffering needlessly at the hands of ingrates. I pray to God you have as few such experiences as these as possible. I pray that many more people may come under your tutelage and a greater fraction of those learn to return the love you have so devotedly put in them.

Shilpi said...

Dear Suvro da,

In the context of what you’ve shared on this post: sometimes, I smile sadly or ruefully and sometimes I feel very perplexed, angry, startled and also hurt.

I have been thinking hard and from every angle possible as to why this girl comes across as being rather flighty and vague – and also maybe charming and as only girls of a particular sort can be – and also callous and rude. I had wondered whether this was simply a delusion on my part but since you’ve mentioned the same, I don’t feel bad.

It’s something that I’ve been trying to untangle and very earnestly and with a particular single-mindedness of thought. Before last year, I simply didn’t believe or know that the girls or women could be that different from me. I was sure that all of them – give or take a bit – felt pretty much the same way as I did for you. This isn’t a matter about being brainy or clever or smart – it’s simply to do with emotions and feelings and responding to you as one who has let them into your life.
If the girl in question is reading this comment – I’d like her to think about a few things:

1) She actually had far better chances and opportunities to get to know you uncommonly close. I don’t know this girl personally but certainly, I saw how you interacted with a couple of your girls when they were in your classes, and girls who claimed they were fond of you, loved, respected you and were “in awe” of you.

2) She met you every week for your classes, got thousands or at least hundreds of hours to engage in face-to-face conversations with you over the years, could drop by whenever she pleased, saw you when you are funny, teasing, whimsical, sharp, serene, wistful and thoughtful. They got to hear you face-to-face and communicate with you in person and for not a few years.

Can she answer this to her own satisfaction: how many times has she bothered to write a comment on your blogs (she says “just your blogs” – Jesus Christ…) or ask you to elaborate or explain or tell her how you feel about such-and-such and why or how or written to you personally of something you may have touched upon in your blogs or reminisced about something you said long ago? Not because she believes that she is doing something out-of-this-world or something noble but simply because she felt it was important to her to get to know you better and to share how she feels about you.

I don’t know whether these matter always and they have to matter to the specific people in a relationship – but when they do, they help to get to know another... Does she know this? Has she thought about this?

And after a decade, now this girl claims she doesn’t “know you”. Has she tried and how has she tried? Is my single connected question for her. I’ve been getting to know you for a long time so I think I have the right to raise this question.

Shilpi said...

1. Knowing another human being whom one wants to know is a continuous process. It’s not something that happens just like that. One doesn’t normally wake up one fine day and say, “I really know him now”. And even if one feels so, that is only the very first step – certainly not the end of knowing the other.

2. Indeed how does she think that one human being gets to know another if not by communicating meaningfully and deeply or very badly wanting to – and through thick and thin?

3. What does she mean by “only” blogposts”? Does she have any real idea of how much that covers of you as an individual? Does she mean she wants to have the privilege of knowing you personally and privately and ‘exclusively’? – It’s neither an entirely misshapen thought nor an evil one. The thought in how it is expressed is a feminine sentiment rather than a masculine one. So why doesn’t she face it and actually make an effort to "really know you"?

Has she read your post “What sort of person am I?” – Has she reflected over it? And that’s one starting-point. She certainly hasn’t commented there. Has she read your poem –travel-music posts, the swimming in the sea post and on Debjaan? What about the one on noses on your whimsy blog? I’ll not go into any further details of what she might want to read to "know you" a bit. I know how affectionate and persistent you can be in trying to get different women and girls to communicate with you and comment on your blogs, so why doesn’t she comment at all and then claim “I don’t really know you?”

4. How do relationships grow deeper? How does one get to know another? What draws one to another and what makes us want to know them more and deeply and better, and badly want to spend some time with another? I’ve been trying and failing and trying to know and sometimes simply feel old and sad but it’s a miracle when the feeling is mutual.

….and I don’t think she meant “knowing” you in the Biblical sense because even in the off-chance that she did – then she would have or should have clarified matters.

God and you know I’ve been rude, unthinking, mindless, cocky, diffident and very awkward with you. You’ve sometimes terrified me by sending me off and away and when you’ve had to, and you keep quiet when it makes no sense to me, and we’ve had great and bizarre conversations and no less bizarre arguments (you might point out that I’m a nut but that doesn’t take away from my point). And in a few ways you treat me more like a lad. And yes, you’re perplexing, utterly bemusing , needling, unpredictable and not without curious and inexplicable eccentricities but you’re interesting ,delightful, valuable, charming and sharp and like the Chinese say, “Same but Different”. I’m not in the line of paying silly compliments to you but it comes from thinking that this girl and others whom you’ve been naturally and openly very fond of – feel in similar ways sometimes. I wish they would accept that. They’d be genuinely and openly affectionate with you in a way that could make you delighted and happy and themselves too. This particular girl might have liked to start from the question, “ what makes Sir different from the people I have come across in my life?” if she “really” wanted to “know” you. I don’t think she quite knows (or the rest of the girls and women who filled your life with colour and then fell out) of how naturally blessed she’s been.

This post of yours really does sadden and hurts deeply. Can’t be helped. But I wouldn’t have written this part unless I hoped with a forlorn hope that maybe this girl might understand and maybe even a few of the others.

Navin said...

Dear Sir,
good luck to her. Its her loss. I think it is about time, you stop thinking about her welfare. A person only gets as much as they are willing to grow.

with best regards,


Debarshi Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards.I believe this post of yours addresses a very troubling issue,very poignantly-Can a relationship/contact between two individuals sustain without mutual reciprocity,without heartfelt sincerity?I believe it can not-for relationships are like saplings that must be carefully tended to at all times.Sir,I shall be addressing the rest of my comment to the person in question-and since she's my senior,I shall be addressing her as Madam.

Madam,please let's get one erroneous statement of yours out of the way at the outset.Since all individuals do not share their troubles/complications,or even take advice from absolute strangers-I do not,and I am sure you don't either.So,your statement that you 'don't really know'Sir is a foolish statement to make-You surely are not in the habit of writing/contacting all bloggers,just by reading through their blog-posts?I can safely assume that it is not the case.So,Sir's blogs are really not your sole source of information about Sir-the personal element is involved too.So,Madam,as you can see-this statement of yours really makes no sense.

How does one 'really know' a person?Is it by knowing biographical facts about the individual,little anecdotes,trivia,or even well documented details of the individual's life?Does that constitute 'really knowing' a person in your terms?For,if that were to be the case-I 'know' Abraham Lincoln,Swami Vivekananda 'very well' indeed!That can never be so,Madam-for we can only evaluate relationships in the context of our mutual interactions with the person in question.Its the conversations,hours of study and your trust in taking Sir as your confidant-that constitutes the relationship,Madam!Please take a moment to think about this.

Everybody is 'busy' with their own lives,Madam-You might have noted the famous pessimist comment,by Lou Holtz,"Never tell your problems to anyone...20% don't care and the other 80% are glad you have them." Its a very bleak statement,taken at face value-however the real meaning lies somewhere in between-that is you must find the people who do care,who care because they have affection for you,and who care out of the goodness of their heart-You have found such an individual in Sir,Madam.Can you let go of him that easily?Sir tells you in every line of this blog-post,Madam,that he still cares-and that a sincere apology,proffered by you,not through just words,but by actions-shall suffice.

Why use words,Madam,that one has to regret later?Why not carefully compose oneself before speaking-and while speaking,why not let the words flow from your heart?Please try to imagine yourself in Sir's position,for once-Do teachers not have a heart,that might bleed?How would you yourself feel,if somebody you had been in touch with for a decade,made this statement-that the individual did not 'know' you except through your writings?How much farther would you have to go to make yourself 'known' to that individual?Please take the time to think about this,Madam-how many people would really want to 'know' you,just out of affection?Can you really feel Sir's pain?

Madam,I sincerely hope that you will attempt to redeem yourself-Heaven knows,I am no relationship expert myself(for all my sagacity),but I am just a simple old boy of Sir's who wishes to ask you this question-Can you really let Sir go?Will all your 'busy' schedules make up for the comforting presence of Sir in your life,as a shoulder to lean on,and as a pillar of support?I wish you the very best of success in your endeavor to really 'know' Sir-to know him by being your best self with him.

With best wishes to Sir and you,

Rajdeep said...

You must have thought a lot about it over a long period of time. So your decision must be best solution.

Shilpi said...

And this part too I will include to make something VERY clear: They are not just your writings or “just” your blogs as I can vouch. Words matter when you use them. I have been getting to know you through your writings and words through very many years. I was in your class for one evening and I remember what you said made me "really know" a sharp bit of you. For years, I read and re-read your writings and listened to what you said to my friends, and across 15 years we’ve had maybe 7 hours of face-to-face conversations, and in snatches. This is karma – nothing more nor less. I didn’t rattle out an entire list of writings for this girl to read – but how heartless can she be! Just your blogs? – Just your writings? Just face-to-face conversations with you? Would this smart and hip girl be likely to call your blogs “just” your blogs if a book of yours had been leading the NYT best-seller list? Yes, you’ve said you won’t write on your blog till you get comments that satisfy you , and it obviously makes not a whit of difference to this princess. A whole blogpost dedicated to her where you express sadness, grief, sorrow and hurt and being a private a man as you are while she can go on being her pretty and silent self who claims to be compassionate. And she complains that you care for your boy who writes a very carefully crafted whole blogpost here. Brushes off me because she’s not the dissertation kind of gal.

So what sort is she and what sort does she imagine she is and far more importantly what sort of relationship does she feel both of you share that you give her all the time in the world across a decade and write a blogpost for her and say that you won't write another till you et enough comments which satisfy you?

I feel this with no rancour but certainly with the deep cut of knowing: this girl (and others like her – give or take) has never had to really know what it means not be in your life or have you in hers whenever she needs you or calls out to you. They don’t know what grey loneliness or sorrow mean. I can’t see what minds they have (commenting on your writings would have been an indication); have no hearts either (which yearn to get close to you); feel no deep and fine feminine sentiments (grungy sassiness, being “hip” or petulant aren’t signs) for you nor are open and honest like your boys. Makes me feel queasy, incredibly hurt and sad. Yes, this is just me, the nut.

Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,

Ten years is a long time for a relationship especially with your kind of involvement. May be I can’t even begin to understand the disappointment, pain and sorrow you feel right now.

I have observed with amazement at how effortlessly and inconspicuously you take any relationship forward, bring the other person involved closer to you. All that you need is genuine affection from the other side. Genuine affection – not even intellectual proficiency or any such special gift (God knows that you have suffered at the hands of hundreds of selfish tricksters who fake love and affection). So all-encompassing is your warmth, love and kind concern that it becomes impossible for a person who has communicated with you even for only a few months to say that he/she does not ‘know’ you. So, it seems incomprehensible to me how/why the person in your blog post said that after a whole decade of communication with you, in which period you have been her teacher, friend, counselor and guide, as you have been and are for so many of us.

When I had first communicated with you, I was indeed a silly, confused and ignorant girl. Whatever little improvement that has taken place in me is mainly through your blogs. I don’t think that reading and communicating with you through your blog is any less a medium of knowing you, in fact it may be one of the best ways of knowing the breadth of your sensitivity, knowledge, imagination, sincerity and your life’s work provided the reader is careful and consistent. I have met you face to face only once and that too almost four years after our first communication. The bond that I share with you now has also developed and deepened mainly through your blogs. So, the only conclusion I can draw from this person’s ‘except for your blogs’ is that she has never cared to read your blogs mindfully and never really wanted to know you.

I do know a few things about you. You do not take offence very easily, give many chances to a relationship, are almost infinitely patient with people you care about and understand the meaning of a sincere heartfelt apology. From whatever you have written here about her, she seems to be an insensitive person who does not respect relationships. She is neither bothered about self-introspection, given that she has hurt you a hundred times before. Unless she makes some very fundamental, long lasting changes in her nature, you are in danger of being hurt again if you continue your relationship.

I know only one thing – you don’t deserve to suffer this kind of pain inflicted by insensitive and ungrateful people on you.

May God soothe your hurt and sorrow.

Love and regards

Subhanjan Sengupta said...

Dear Sir,

Given the kind of reasonable, patient, well-wishing and thoughtful individual that you have been, it is indeed the good fortune of your ex-students that they had got someone like you who has lived up to certain intellectual, moral and practical standards. If they are not able to grasp what you mean through your words of advice, that is largely to be blamed on what is, I call a global epidemic.

I have not seen the baby boomers generation much. But I have this strong feeling that generations after the baby boomers have got environments where things were, more or less, readily available to them. Life, now, is strongly influenced by distractions. Many workplaces are like sweaty, stinking afternoons of hot tropical summers. Television mostly, at best, has got debates with very aggressive communication (I suppose you can understand whom I mean); while at worst, it has got shows that easily eat away time. Pursuit of money is made to be synonymous to the pursuit of happiness.

What I feel is that in times like these, those in today's generations who are sensitive get stuck in an unusual dichotomy of what to do and what not, what to prioritize and what not, what is right and what is wrong. In times like these, an individual of your kind is extremely essential in the profession of teaching/mentoring/youth development. I am sure many of your students strongly realise that. But some of them have decided for life to stick to you. Why? It is because long distance communication has got its limitations. It is like reading Vivekananda for a day, getting inspired then and there, and then the inspiration slowly moves into oblivion. The average human mind needs constant hammering. Some of us need that hammering occasionally. That’s why we stick to you, try to listen, understand, and think before we speak. What has made me wonder is whether this girl has developed the habit of thinking more than once before being sure of her words! Is her willingness to listen dying away? Is she extremely distracted? Is she very unhappy with her job?

I feel Sir that your peace of mind is equally important. If people are not staying in touch with you substantially (which does not mean occasional ‘Hi’ and ‘Hello’, but means valuable conversations even if its once a month), they are not ensuring that they get good things hammered in their minds. You should not bother much for these people. I think it is time for this girl to ponder more than react. But you can give her a second chance. You gave me as well. It is your goodwill. But if you give her a chance now, it will be entirely her responsibility to work on her life skills, not yours.

Warm Regards,

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I for one know all about how precious the second chances that you give are. I cannot forget your immediate reply to my mail after a gap of a year Sir, nor can I forget that phone call soon after my grandmother passed away. Life has become a bit sharper, better, I have felt excruciatingly uncomfortable with myself and I have found myself learning something from you and about you through almost every blogpost or email.

Who is to say that "I don't really know Sir all that well?" I have never met Sir yet why is that any thought or idea or anything that comes to my mind, including or most especially the happy ones, one of the very first people I think of to share with is Sir? He is always patient; his request to those who claim his time is not to be uncommonly intelligent or smart or philosophical but to be genuine. Where else can I find someone who hasn't even seen me answer very patiently to a bizarre middle-of-the-night email about which superhero comic that he likes best? I could tell him that and he wouldn't scorn, I could tell Sir some of the heaviest sorrows I might encounter and Sir would give me sympathy or tough love as the case demands but never unkindness.

I do not know the person in question, I only hope that she is able to take the second chance that Sir seems ready to give her and make good on it. Some people may think that it isn't a "big deal" but words do matter.


Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda

Though it may sound harsh but I believe your decision is the correct decision. Your students are privileged that they can reach out to you to discuss their lives. I am not sure how many teachers or even family members give them such a privileged access. However, it is a pity that they misuse such access.

Every such incident hurts but I hope you feel better quickly.

My good wishes.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

I do think that all my correspondents so far are getting (kind as they are to me!) too angry with this young lady. I did say in the post it was not anger that was uppermost in my mind, but sorrow and regret. She is not just another girl - heaven knows I have dealt with enough to know the difference and value it. So please, no condemnation: that's not what I wanted, not by a long chalk. Maybe urging her to appreciate a little more what she has got, and what she knows somewhere very deep inside. Do common and uninterested females keep in touch with their old teachers for ages after they left?

Vaishnavi and Rashmi, I cannot thank you enough for the kind words. My heart is full.

And Shilpi, thanks for putting in something about the blogs. Someone had to point out that they make a very big difference if someone does really want to know me.

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
I agree with Shilpi di on what she said about your blogs. When I attended your classes, I was nothing but a silly, foolhardy teenager. Yet, I had realised that you weren't just another teacher. After that, I fell out of touch and the blame resides solely on me. Later, when I came across your blog, it helped me know you much better. You had cordially welcomed me back to the fold. I have communicated with you mostly through your blogposts and these posts have made me realise what I had missed out when I attended your classes,at least some sense has been driven into my head after all these years. So I simply don't understand when this student of yours said, "I don’t really know you except through your blogs."
I know how patient and considerate you are with your students and that is the reason why you are so hurt. But since this girl has not been entirely insensitive like many others, I am sure she would soon realise her blunder and make amends.
Thanks and with regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I shall urge my readers to look up three older posts in this connection: 'Don't be a teacher with a heart', 'A girl who admired her teacher' and 'Ingratitude and karma'.

These are lifelong themes with me: how we make awful mistakes again and again in thinking we know someone, even after years and years, how it's so pointless to say you 'silently admire' someone, and how gratitude and affection are strangely ephemeral things in this world. I keep telling people about it. I'm not sure whether they understand, and whether it matters to them.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I trust that this young lady, whatever else she says to me in the days and years to come, will not have to say 'I don't really know you...'