Nila has stopped abusing me as I pass by. Ever since I paid for her breakfast when she was penniless one time, she now shows her absent front teeth in a generous grin and waves with her little finger. With some of the people who sit in the same local café, she is typically in growling mode. The abuse emerges in the form of angry facial gestures and utterances in a snarling language most of us can’t understand. Otherwise she is harmless.
This café has its quota of eccentrics. Another one from the same part of the world as Nila also has a loony side to him. He likes to strut back and forth and shout deliberately to the waiters and the cooks – very loudly, I might add – something that, because of their good nature, makes them all laugh. He has also been known to rush around clearing the tables on their behalf.
Sometimes he colonises one of the larger tables and lines up, very neatly, his various pens and highlighters, his magazines and scissors and his glue stick, along with the scrapbook in which he displays his completed handiwork. There is nothing especially eccentric about that except that he has been known to shift the table diagonally to a distant corner, lay out all his clobber in tidy piles, prop his bag in a prominent position on top, and then take off and disappear for hours together.
We all know he’s a bit whacky, and some even see it as part of an act, because, when the situation calls for it, he can have a normal conversation.
I confess to having a soft spot for eccentrics. Where others cringe and shy away, I stay open and enjoy the strange worldview they present me with. That may be to do with my past experience of people with divided minds in my work as a psychotherapist, but more likely it’s because I have an eccentric side myself.
Admittedly I don’t go around berating total strangers, bellowing at waiters or reorganising the furniture of local cafés…well, almost don’t!
However, I have been known to be rude to aggressive drivers, using my walking stick somewhat the way a dog-trainer uses his staff, to make myself bigger and more threatening. See how I use it to make my way along a busy road. (Apparently a staff, as used by kings and emperors of long-ago, by making you occupy more space, actually has you appear bigger and therefore a bit scary. In the confrontation between pedestrian and car, the little wobbly human is no contender and needs all the weaponry she can lay her hands on.) So there is actually some method to my madness.
The Giggle Spot
Pedestrian versus vehicle apart, I do have an eccentric side to me. I can be loud of voice, outspoken of speech, and theatrical of manner. And I can sometimes be seen to double up in uncontrollable fits of laughter, something not normally considered becoming of a woman of my ‘dignified’ age and origins.
I confess, I am partly uninhibited about my outbursts because, about two years before he headed to his other shore, Osho, my spiritual master, told me in one of his discourses: “I want you to reach to the ultimate as a child, giggling with joy… You should enter with laughter because only your laughter can show your gratitude.”
More significantly I find relaxing into my skew-whiff personality immensely liberating. And as long as I don’t do anyone any harm, nor really care too much how I appear to others, why not continue to feel liberated?
The important thing is to know I am behaving this way. To be aware of the behaviour as it is happening and feel conscious enough to give myself full permission.
(This does not always happen of course. But then…)
I noticed that having avoided the public life, where presentation is everything, and being an outsider when I’m in India, these open spaces have become more possible for me.
Talking to Yourself solves everything!
There’s another local eccentric who visits our cafe on occasion: a cheerful bespectacled guy, who strides around the neighbourhood having long animated conversations with himself. On first encountering him, I thought he was speaking into his cell phone. It turns out he was speaking to the other friend in his divided mind – quite amicably, I should add.
Any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour in another tends to open our eyes. Someone jumping about in the street, for example, would attract attention. The old man of my childhood, in his red fez and cloth shopping sack, pontificating from the top of a manhole in the middle of the road…what a delight for us kids! And how scary for the passers by who, true British style, did all they could to ignore him.
Anything that attracts attention, especially if it’s seen as a wee bit threatening, shakes us from our reveries and brings us, plonk, into the present moment. It may even demand an unusual response.
When these things happen, the British are trained to look and quickly look away, as if to be witness to such behaviour is ‘not quite nice’. The Americans would tense up and prepare to intervene in the event of trouble. The Indians do what any child would do, they simply stop and stare.
However tiny, any one is a wake-up call.
Could the world do with a few more real eccentrics?
What do you think?