When I was in school, some friends would tease me by calling out my name as Parveen Babi, a popular Hindi film actress. I would not show my irritation as I knew that the teasing would get worse if they knew I was affected by it. However, internally I would be seething.
One day I shared my indignation with my father. Calmly, he asked me, ‘Are you Parveen Babi?’ I shot back, ‘of course not!’ My father continued, ‘and what is your favourite drama?’ I told the name of the Marathi drama ‘Toh Mee Navech’ (That’s not me). He repeated his first question and I replied with a smile, ‘That’s not me!’
So often, we feel easily slighted by someone calling us names. We perceive it to be an unfair label or a spiteful abuse. We get worked up as we feel that we are targeted unfairly. We allow the indignation to simmer and eventually boil as offended outrage. We respond in self-righteous fury that can blur many realities… all because we can’t tell our own mind that ‘that’s not me!’
We take offence too easily and we resort to poor defense or retaliation. Instead we should choose tolerance combined with dignity and open mindedness. Character is all about refusing to be affected by petty issues. Our response to every stimulus should never be easy prey for barbs. If it is a case of ‘not me’ we should not allow it to become a case of ‘why me’ or ‘how me’.
Interestingly, years later when in college, I visited the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. Among the few visitors that afternoon was Parveen Babi! I introduced myself and started telling her of being called by her name. As I narrated the tale of learning to say, ‘not me’, she replied with an enigmatic smile, ‘not me, too!’
Heed, we are only what we choose to be
And if we seem otherwise, say ‘not me’!
~ Pravin Sabnis