Written by Sayan Chakraborty

Thursday, 17 February 2011

image for Mannered Tales

Ankit could not have been happier. After years of torment, he succeeded in proving that his parents and 'detractors' did not exercise their respective grey matters well while gauging the might of his mannerisms, which, he admits today, 'is at times an eye sore when subjected to visual overdose'.

"As if I was stranded hapless before a flight of arrows, unarmed and unprotected."

Ankit referred thoughtfully to the relentless attempts at a 'mannerism free Ankit' by his parents, friends, relatives, well wishers, 'detractors'.

"Everybody around was obsessed with getting me rid of mannerisms. Very fiendish," he said, trying to put on the mantle of a philosopher whose philosophy flows out only while reminiscing about glimpses of the past, which had turned out to be unfavorable, some by his own accord, few by turn of luck.

Quickly realizing the futility of his efforts, either to impress me or earn my sympathy, he shrugged off the philosopher's robe.

"I understand now. How do you expect me to realize as a child that acts which looked so queer and funny when enacted before a mirror would be trashed by the audience? "

A pause of about 20 seconds followed as Ankit grappled with air to fill his empty lungs, which he assumes to be on the verge of deflation by a pinch from the sediment of nicotine accumulated in eight proud years of smoking (he is 22 now).

He recollected his father smoking in his study room, seated in a rocking chair of sandalwood, inherited from his grandfather (Ankit's grandfather). His face glows up.

Surprisingly, the emphasis was not on the bygone days of his family's economic glory, or a history of the rocking chair, not even on the regality of his father's sitting posture.

"I was so fascinated with the way he tapped his cigarette. Instead of tapping the tip with the index finger, he tapped the butt with his thumb. It was a very uncommon sight for me. I wanted to imitate him," Ankit said. "Once I gathered enough courage to ride a bus to a place around 5 kms from my locality to smoke, where chances of being identified or coming across an acquaintance would be minimal."

I smelled the rat. It smelled of mannerism acquired by social learning.

"One of the many avenues to inculcate mannerism in which one acquires gestures from an admirable or prominent person, in a bid to emulate that person," explains Bishakha Majumder, part time lecturer of psychology at Gokhale College, Kolkata and research fellow at Departmental Research Support, University Grants Commision.

Ankit's repertoire of anecdotes on his mannerisms was not yet depleted of resources.

He ran his finger through his hair before starting again. A bell rang, alarming me that this is not the first time he did this during our hour long rendezvous. I squeezed my memory dry to recollect how often he repeated this gesture, to roughly zero in on not less than 10 times over the past hour. When made conscious of this gesture, Ankit scratched his cheeks, making me fearful of another transition into the world of thoughtfulness ('scratched in cheeks' is once again a verb signifying the frequency of the action's occurrence).

"These are something which I imbibed from nowhere. I suppose they came naturally," he said in crisp English. "I had grown my hair shoulder long when in first year of college. My grandfather passed away. I was tensed on how to react, upset because he was very dear to me. I started running fingers through my hair, standing before grandpa's dead body. Dad saw me and thought that I was more conscious about my hair than being in grief." He sighed. "Dad walked up and slapped me hard."

Sympathizing is an obvious and expected reaction under such circumstances, which I did. At the same time one can not refrain from being amused at the visualization of such an incident. These are called nonverbal mannerisms, caused by nerve disorders. According to Majumdar, almost eight in ten individuals is a subject to this vice, which is usually a funny visual.

"I have funnier anecdotes as well." I wondered what in his already spoken memoirs could be inferred as funny and found none, ruing over the waste of a lively word like 'funny'. All the sympathy he had gathered over the last 120 mins evaporated.

He talked about folding his arms from the elbow every now and then. It transpired to be conversion disorder, which, Majumdar, had summarized as an 'attention seeking gesture.'

Ankit recollected how his grandpa used to pull his legs. "He used to say, you flex your invisible muscles at the drop of a hat, when do the world actually get to see some flesh on your arm? But lanky is good, lanky actors are selling like hot cakes." I tried hard to conceive Ankit taking his part time membership in the theatre club he had recently enrolled, as a prospective profession. I gave up midway as a figure, 5 ft 8 inches high, 28 inches by waist and 34 by chest figure, dressed in a Gucci T and Rock S jeans, with a Javed Habib hairdo, was not very soothing to my eyes.

It was time to bid sayonara. My subject was scheduled to attend his call centre job from 10 at night, it was 7.30 already. Ankit asked for a cigarette, which I promptly offered.

"Excuse me, offering with left hand," I murmured, holding my pack before him.

(I remember holding an already lit cigarette in my right hand, hence held the pack of Gold Flake with my left).

Ankit grinned. He asked for my permission to 'summarize the meeting'.

"You offered me fag four times, all the while apologizing. It's your mannerism. Am I right?" I responded with a nod of affirmation.

His eyes brightened with the pride of defeating me, as if he grouped me with those devoted to the cause of 'mannerism free Ankit', as if he realized my bouts of indifference to his stories, as if he expected me of getting carried away to the extent of suggesting him a psychologist.

But I could not deny that I had picked up a mannerism by social learning. Offering anything to anybody with left had is considered impolite by many because of its relation with some early morning sanitation operation, hence the apology. I recalled Majumdar saying, "Almost every human being is a victim of mannerism, if you like to put it that way. Some has verbal, others non verbal mannerisms. In either case, mannerism is not a nascent stage of obsessive compulsive disorder, contrary to popular belief. Better if we rejoice in the fun part of it than referring it as a vice."

Ankit's 'summary' was over the top, as expected.

"I am happy today. I will be the first person in my family to be interviewed by a journalist, that too because of my mannerisms."

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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