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A life less ordinary

Forget about being special; we may be much happier if we embraced our inner ordinariness, writes Seema Goswami.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2009 16:21 IST
Seema Goswami

If anything characterises our modern age it is the almost universal desire to be regarded as special in some way. Every one of us wants to be seen as something out of the ordinary, someone above average, a little bit removed from the norm. And of course, we want to be treated special, in keeping with our exalted status.

And this desire infects every area of our lives. It’s not just that we should be seen as being out of the ordinary. It’s also that everything around us should also be special in its own distinctive way.

Thus, our children can never be of average intelligence, or moderately good at sport/music/dancing/etc., or even ordinary looking. No, they have to be special in every single way. They must excel at everything they put their minds to. They have to get straight As at school, win every race at the annual sports day, be good enough to be picked for the neighbourhood rock band. And if they fail at all or any of the above, it will not be for lack of trying (on our part, that is).

This pursuit of perfection extends to our homes as well. The days when it was okay to run a slightly sloppy, ever-so-shabby household are well and truly over. Now, your interiors have to be perfectly designed with matching carpet and upholstery. The towels in the guest bathroom must be colour-coordinated with the tiles. Your kitchen must have the latest high-tech equipment. Anything less would be to risk social disgrace.

When it comes to entertaining at home, the pressure is on as well. You must serve tea or coffee in pretty cups and mugs. And when it comes to snacks you can’t just dish up the usual samosa and pakoras. You have to impress with something suitably snobbish like a cream cheese dip with blue corn chips. Dinner must have at least three courses if it is a sit-down (always a mark of social distinction) and about 20 dishes if it is a buffet.

Your guests have to be kept suitably lubricated throughout the evening. And not with dodgy plonk, cheap beer or rum either. If you want to be seen as a hostess with the mostest, then be prepared to serve Scotch whisky, single malts, flavoured vodka, premium gin, and of course half-decent wine. If you really want to score high, then pull out all the stops and uncork a bottle (or six) of champagne.

If you are taking people out, the stakes get higher. It’s not enough to fetch up to the local kebab and curry house and offer them as much biryani as they can put away. No, you have to knock their socks off by booking at an expensive specialty restaurant which will a) show them that you know your food; b) that you can afford to pay those astronomical bills; and c) that you routinely eat out like this (which they should keep in mind when they invite you back).

Holidays can no longer be ordinary either. You can’t just pack up the kids and go off and spend a month at your mother or aunt’s place. No, not even if they live in a scenic location. For a break to qualify as a holiday, you simply can’t stay with people. You must spend good money on a long-haul flight, a five-star hotel, and as many blow-out meals as you can manage.

Destinations are just as important. If one holiday is spent in a beach resort in India, then the next one has to be at an exotic foreign location. And of course, you can never go back to the same destination twice in a row –unless you happen to own a second home there, where you host your friends.

If all these attempts to appear out of the ordinary don’t stress you out completely, then trying to turn yourself into something special certainly will.

And God knows, we all try our hardest to do just that. At the most superficial level, it involves looking the part: designer labels on our backs and feet; the latest It bag on our shoulders; hair and nails done perfectly; flawless make-up to hide every blemish and acne scar. It’s no longer acceptable to look a bit tired around the edges – we must present our best face to the world at all times.

But more importantly, we have to appear to be special in more meaningful ways as well. We must have super-successful careers, we must make tons of money, we must be hugely influential, and it always helps to be a little bit famous.
It’s one hell of an effort, isn’t it? And to what end exactly? It doesn’t make us any happier. If anything, it takes all the joy out of living. So why do we do it?

At one level, of course, it is about keeping up with the Junejas. At another, it is about falling in line with how civil society expects us to behave these days.

Well I, for one, am not going to play this game any longer. Forget all that tosh about being special. From now on, I am going to embrace my inner ordinariness – and you are very welcome to do the same.