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See? It just can't look pretty. Image nicked from Uncle Google. Click on image to go to its owner.

Despite the best of intentions to stride into Colaba regularly and see every show in every gallery, I’m about as aware of what’s happening in the Mumbai art scene as I am of the process of making shukto. For those who are not well-versed with Bengali food, shukto is widely-regarded as one of the jewels in our culinary crown. An authentic shukto is supposed to be a complicated combination of flavours and textures: a perfect balance of the harshness of bitter gourd, the smoothness of milk and poppy-seed paste, the pungency of mustard oil, the richness of ghee… and I don’t know what else. Because really, it looks like grey goop and can taste like bitter slop. It’s the expertise of the cook that decides how shukto will taste. There are some who find epiphany in well-made shukto. I am not one of them. Good shukto, I enjoy but am very aware of that bitter aftertaste. It makes me feel virtuous because I ate something healthy and didn’t judge a dish by its outstandingly unappealing appearance (no one, and no one, can make shukto pretty). Bad shukto makes me want to puke, and most people make bad shukto either because they have no idea what the recipe is or because they just can’t be bothered to work at getting it right.

Come to think of it, shukto neatly sums up my relationship with art in this city. Like shukto, the art scene is supposed to be a vibrant mix of all sorts of contemporary practices. Much like I can’t cook shukto, I can’t create art but I can appreciate it when it’s good. However, most of the time, it’s a ghastly mess of ineptitude and laziness. So many shows are an artless confluence of mediocre ideas, and it’s depressing to walk into a gallery and see absence of talent being celebrated and praised. Because dammit all, I remember my days as a non-press civilian when I believed artists got shows, writers got contracts, restaurants and films got positive reviews because they were considered good.

On the other hand, when an exhibition really is good, I feel immensely virtuous for not letting past experiences deter me and for having trekked all the way into South Mumbai. It’s good for me, it makes me absorb something about the world around me better and refreshingly slices through the caul of banalities that generally shroud the city (shukto is a digestive and palate cleanser, incidentally. Stay with me here as I exercise the old grey noodle to carry the metaphor through).

Then there’s the matter of the aftertaste of bitterness. It’s there, and it comes from being entirely misunderstood. Because that, ladies and gents, is the plight of the introvert. Step out of the house, and it involves socialising; and relentlessly at that. It’s not necessarily the people with whom one has to socialise that are the problem — although that too can be an issue. A gallerist I met the other day not only didn’t recognise me at first but when they thought they’d recognised me, they had actually mistaken me for a completely different human being (whom I don’t resemble in the slightest, incidentally). However, it’s not often that I have to encounter cases of mistaken identity when I step out of my home. The problem is that socialising is tiresome.

Now, I know what needs to be done in order to socialise; occasionally, I even manage it with some degree of skill. I’d just be much happier not having to do it. If The Atlantic’s calculations are accurate, I am the 25%. I like silence, I like internal dialogue, I am an introvert, and to correctly understand what that means, please read Jonathan Rauch.

Introverts are not necessarily shy. Shy people are anxious or frightened or self-excoriating in social settings; introverts generally are not. Introverts are also not misanthropic, though some of us do go along with Sartre as far as to say “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Rather, introverts are people who find other people tiring.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.”

Read the rest of this article here. I love the bit where he says extroverts are about as inscrutable as puppies.

That said, I will attempt to be a little more aware of what’s going on in Colaba. Next year.

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6 thoughts on ““I’m an introvert. Now please shush.”

  1. Oh God! Thank you! THANK you for finding this article (and of course, writing about it!) – this is *so* me and I could never explain it to others (or understand it myself for that matter! Further, I tried to compensate by being what I call my shiny-happy-self by *being* a babbling idiot (that or like moody/glum were the choices) in most social situations!

    PS: not a big fan of shukto and good luck with Colaba and other ‘art scenes’!

  2. shukto is really hit or miss. it’s like eating green beans here, or fugu in japan or something. at least it’s less harrowing than the latter.

    speaking of tedious metaphors – it’s like reading a great, important book by someone great and important (like um your boyfriend Howard Jacobson). You may or may not cherish the experience, but it’s supposed to be good for you.

    also i reckon, ‘introvert’ is the new ‘geek’. just like there was a slew of consumer durables in the past decade for geeks, i’m sure there’ll be a whole slew of iwhatevers for ‘introverts’ who are ‘just like you’.

  3. Is a dish poorly prepared if the vegetables are left as large chunks? Large and haphazardly cut pieces of broccoli, carrots, radishes, mushy gourds, mushrooms, etc. are unappetizing in a dish.

    I would posit an introvert with a successful blog is an extrovert in cyberspace. It depends on the medium.

    • SG, I don’t think broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and radishes have ever made it into a self-respecting shukto. At a stretch, perhaps carrots and radishes. But certainly not mushrooms and broccoli. Even cauliflower isn’t a shukto vegetable. Also, in traditional Bengali cooking, there’s no such thing as haphazardly cut vegetables. The art of chopping veggies was one that Bengali ladies took very seriously, so good Bengali food will never have disproportionate sizes in one dish.

      Re: blogging and extroverts, I would disagree. I don’t think just being active online makes one an extrovert. An extrovert in cyberspace would be someone who likes chatting, Skype-ing and the like, and does it very frequently. As opposed to, say, emailing. Few extroverts I know like blogging (some have blogs that they get minions to write for them admittedly) and I suspect that’s because blogging is actually a pretty solitary activity.

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