My father has long stressed to me the importance of being humble. And why not? There is general consensus that there is no one more annoying than that one guy who has a high opinion of himself and then broadcasts his conceit to any poor, unsuspecting soul. Lest they come off as the aforementioned braggart, some people make it a top priority to keep mum about any achievement that in the slightest possible way may seem self-inflationary.
But such secrecy is not always easy to maintain and particularly so for an Indian. The interminable parade of curious-verging-on-nosy aunties and uncles pry and pry for answers. What results is awkwardness and tension galore. The best place by far to witness this mess is at a generic NRI party.
*All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead – especially to me – is purely coincidental.*
Priya is a soon-to-be college freshman who has just received a full scholarship to a top university. By now, she is a seasoned expert in conducting herself at Indian parties. However, the party she is now attending looks different. She walks in to see that all of her acquaintances from childhood, who were conspicuously absent from these parties for the past four years so that they could hyper-study, have finally exposed themselves to natural light again. Yes, the time to celebrate their academic successes has finally come!
Or has it?
College acceptance letters have just been issued and aunties and uncles are all staring at Priya, hoping that she will satiate their hunger for some news. She doesn’t say anything because, of course, her mother and father have impressed upon her before the party, “Don’t say anything about your college acceptances. Remember, there is nothing appealing about someone who says too much.” So Priya keeps tight-lipped until some random uncle and aunty bumble over and begin the inevitable:
“So where have you gotten in, beta?” the uncle asks.
“Oh, ah, well I’ve gotten a scholarship…” she responds tentatively.
“Yes? Oh, congratulations!” they both exclaim.
“Thanks. Yeah, yeah…” Priya mumbles, not knowing exactly why she added those shady linguistic appendages. Then uncle and aunty stare at her earnestly for a few pregnant seconds before, having grown impatient, they finally ask her themselves, “Yes, okay, so where to?”
And so she tells them. It’s not bragging if they wrenched the answer out of her, right? Hopefully, she thinks, her reticence didn’t come across as smugness. But she does have to admit – playing hard-to-get does make her feel important.
“Oh, okay,” the aunty replies, suddenly solemn. But at that both let out a nervous guffaw, and the uncle continues, “Good. Good. Our son he, eh, he applied to that school but he didn’t hear back about any scholarship….” Priya shrugs and uncle continues, now complaining: “I don’t know why. He had the high test scores and everything. He was top in his class.”
They are still staring at Priya but inquisitively now, as if she might hold the answer to the enigma. As if this situation isn’t awkward enough, she feels especially tense and guilty about the explicit comparison being drawn between her and their son.
Soon after Priya meets a childhood acquaintance whom she had last met five years ago and so they both have the necessary what-happened-during-the-last-half- decade-and-what-does-the-future-hold talk. Inevitably, the topic of higher education raises its head like the elephant in the room.
“So senior year, eh?” Priya asks hoping it will move her friend to drop a hint.
“Sure is. Graduation all planned out?” the just-as-curious girl asks.
“Yeah. Our principal will be announcing the colleges that will attend next year.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Nice.”
An ungraceful pause… and then, unable to beat around the bush any longer, Priya asks her which college she will be attending next year only to elicit a tentative, and vaguely patronizing response, “Oh, wow. You know…nothing big…um…” the girl responds, only to squeak out the name of the school at the very end of her verbosity.
“Oh, well that wasn’t too hard, now was it?” annoyed Priya mutters under her breath, having finally realized that the girl’s secrecy only fueled her own unrelenting, aunty-esque, nosy tendencies and furthermore, that hiding one’s achievements bestows more frustration upon one’s audience than awe at one’s fake humility. Humility, she finally understands, is not about being stealthy about one’s achievements. It is far more self-reflective and ideally determined by the opinion one holds of one’s self. Is it not better to simply be forthright with one’s accomplishments, especially if humility is defined as an introspective trait? We all know those popinjays who bluster on and on and we do our best to avoid resembling them. However, it seems best not to recede completely into our shells.
The Humble Games
April 20, 2012
There is no one more annoying than that one guy who has a high opinion of himself and then broadcasts his conceit to any poor, unsuspecting soul.