A meaningful guide to avoiding meaningless conversation
Last kab karwaya thaa?’, she asked. I closed my eyes tighter, pretending I didn’t hear her, but I knew she’d repeat the question before 10 seconds passed. She did.
I mumbled ‘last month’, though I was so tempted to say ‘Kal hi karwaya thaa. Roz nahi karwaana chahiye?
’ to the girl who was doing my pedicure. But that would have prolonged a needless conversation. Needless, yes, that is the word. I guess the staff at beauty salons and spas are told to strike a conversation with the clients so that the latter don’t get bored but what they are not taught is when not to start a conversation. In fact, ‘when not to strike a conversation’ is a question most of us would fail to answer.
In a way, it’s a very sweet thing that we Indians are people-friendly, unlike the West, where people refuse to acknowledge even the next door neighbours. But then sometimes we take this friendly nature too far. Just as in a spa when all that one would want is peaceful silence, there are so many other situations where small talk is not welcome. But most people just don’t get it. Minakshi from my team, who travels by the metro, says she hates it when after a hectic day, the moment she sits in the train for her journey back home and begins to relax, some stranger decides to dive into a Modi Vs Rahul Gandhi debate. Chalo
that’s still topical and shows we care about who’s gonna lead us, but then people insist on discussing everything, right from the weather to the next episode of Bigg Boss — especially with the person who is visibly reluctant to talk. ‘The worst is when someone decides to ask personal questions,’ adds Navdeep, who recently got married and sports a ‘chooda’, narrating how she gets free advice to ‘deal with the in-laws’ in the metro, when she had never asked for it. Well, I am of a rather talkative nature and think of small talk as a good way to pass the time, but then I do see a point in what these girls said. More than what is being discussed, it is the setting or the situation which sometimes makes conversations needless, pointless and if I may say so, inappropriate.
So here are some situations where, if you start a needless conversation, be sure that someone will go home and crib about you. 1Elevator chit-chat: I’ve always seen people behave very oddly, inside a lift. Some of them cut off what they are speaking mid-sentence the second the elevator door closes, and almost stop to breathe till it opens, as if they are being held hostage. Some depressingly stare at the ceiling like it’s going to fall any second. And some decide to start the most uncomfortable conversation ever. ‘Phir uske boss ko pata toh nahi chala?’ is what a colleague recently asked me in a lift full of people, going up by 17 floors. I silently slapped her thrice in my head but not sure if she got them, because my silence was met by ‘hain?’
All I could reply was ‘I’ll just tell you’, wondering why she would not have the common sense to not indulge in risky office gossip in a lift full of colleagues. We just don’t know how to behave in an elevator, period. As it is, it’s tough to deal with the irritation of people stopping the lift only to go up by one floor, and paranoids repeating their floor number like maniacs to the lift operator. On top of that, an inappropriate, loud conversation in front of strangers could be a killer. My advice? Save the oxygen being used up in talking. Who knows when the lift may get stuck for hours? :) 2Hospital sympathy talk: The logic for people wanting to talk in the hospital waiting rooms is mostly anxiety. You are worried about your loved one admitted for treatment, and you reach out to someone else who may be in a similar position. All that is understandable. But sample this. ‘Hua kaise yeh?’ ‘Kya kehta hai doctor?’ The answers to these questions have to be repeatedly given by the patient’s attendant to all the visiting relatives, and also to all the strangers who decide to talk. In a mental state that sometimes craves only for some peaceful moments to pray.
If you feel that an anxious soul in the hospital waiting room is looking for someone to share the anxiety with, by all means reach out. But if all you’re getting is uncomfortable looks and one-word answers, it’s time you got the message, no? 3Loo Hullabaloo: I know, I know, you don’t want to hear this when you are reading your morning newspaper over a hot cuppa. But then some of you may also be reading this in exactly the place I can’t help but talk about here. What is with people wanting to talk while peeing? See, I don’t know how it goes with the guys but one of the biggest mysteries which I’ve finally given up exploring the cause of, is why girls don’t like going to the washroom alone. It’s like a community thing to do, perhaps it encourages bonding. ‘Who’s coming to the loo?’ is usually announced with much festive cheer in classrooms, restaurants, offices. And then 2-3 women chirpily move towards a place meant to answer the nature’s call — IN PEACE!. But no, that won’t happen, because, you know, girls and lips. They have to move. So a conversation that starts on the way, carries on even when one of them has closed the door and deposited herself on the seat. Now here’s why I have a problem with it. n It’s weird, it’s unnecessary, it can wait n Others can hear you. Among other sounds they can’t avoid hearing n It can cause...umm... performance anxiety if the topic of discussion is intense. What if it stops mid-stream? Think about it. Before the girls decide to kill me, Let me say that I’m sure the guys do this too.
And from whatever I have seen in movies, they stand too close to each other in the act, and that should make it more awkward to have conversations. 2-4 minute wait kar lo yaar, aisa kya toofan hai? And yeah, sometimes it can cause acute embarrassment. I once went to the public loo in a market, the one which had two cubicles. The first one was occupied, so I got inside the second one. The moment I, well, started, a girl’s voice from the adjoining cubicle said, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ Finding it most weird but not wanting to be rude, I mumbled ‘fine, thanks.’
After a few seconds, the voice said, ‘So what are you up to?’ Rather shocked at the gall, I snapped back ‘exactly what you are up to’. The next thing I heard was ‘Sorry, I’ll call you back. Some idiot woman in the next toilet is answering all my questions.’
Sonal Kalra used to take lectures on how to start a conversation. Now after this, no one will invite her anymore.
What a sad end to a career.
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Sonal Kalra gives you tips to calm down in her weekly column 'A Calmer You.'