Curiosity Factor

by Sahadev Komaragiri

You will make yourself an object of curiosity when you move to a small town after living abroad for many years. You will hear a range of comments from all corners of the world. Some greet you for your courageous decision. They are generally appreciative of your move. Your friends and relatives offer their unconditional support. In the connected world, you will make new friends on social networking sites. These are the people who you never met but both you and the strangers somehow feel very connected. You get new energy, encouragement and inspiration from them. All this is somewhat distant curiosity. It enriches your purpose. It is fairly useful and absolutely harmless. But the curiosity at the local levels is something to think about from a completely different angle.

When I joined the school, I was introduced to the staff as an appointee of the management. They were told that I lived in the US and Singapore before I moved to Nandigama. In fact it is very difficult to hide the fact that I lived outside India for many years. This obviously made everyone curious. Most of the students and non-teaching staff knew about this within a short time. After all, this is a small place where everyone knows everyone else. Some of the members in the community and the neighbourhood knew about it. When I moved to Singapore I was looked at with some curiosity by my colleagues. Everyone moves from Singapore to the US, why did he move from the US to Singapore? Such questions did not bother us much.

The very second day at the school, one girl approached me and asked if Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba appeared in my dream and instructed me to go to Nandigama school. I said no. In fact nothing dramatic of that kind ever happened to me. It is interesting to note that people in general feel that nobody cares for the god foresaken villages of India. Sometimes, this curiousity gives way to rumours. Just yesterday one boy asked me whether I owned two industries in the US. He also wanted to know if they are being managed by my dad after I moved to India. Someone gave him that information and he wanted to verify! I just replied in negative.

I am not sure if people started searching for a motive behind my move to Nandigama… but some people asked us if we still own any properties in the neighbourhood. To all such questions I simply replied in all honesty that we do not own any properties in the neighbourhood. The most difficult side of the curiousity factor is the search for a motive from those who are curious. The second most difficult one to handle is how people try to measure your wealth. He lived abroad for so many years, so he must have made lots of money before he retired in this small town! People think that one must make loads of money before they can venture into taking up a cause. They think it is just impossible to do it any other way. This is where I beg to differ. The whole point is that when you move to a small town there is a great struggle to win people’s trust and respect before you can embark on lending a helping hand. The entire village lives like one big family. It takes a lot of time to get integrated into this large family.

Off late I am noticing a new trend. I think this happens once people start realizing that this new person is approachable. That people think that I am approachable is good news, but the down side is that people now approach me seeking financial favors. A person that I know for just two months asked me if I can give him a short term loan for a very large amount. I mentioned to him, very politely, my inability to loan him that kind of money. I was very determined to not get into any financial entanglements of any kind. A couple of times or more, I gave small amounts of money for those who are really needy. All they needed was two or three hundred rupees to handle a pressing need. I was willing to address such needs. How I am learning to handle such requests for financial favors will be covered in a different post. It will suffice for now to say that people are curious to see how far you will go before you say no, not just financially but in all matters. This kind of testing can come from both the students as well as the teaching and non-teaching staff. Not from everyone. Most people are just simple and innocent. They are just too nice and too trusting. It is just one or two overly curious people that can make you jittery.

How do we handle such curiosity? For now, I am downplaying all questions about my stay in the US or Singapore with simple answers. I am trying to impress upon the people that where I lived or what I did is not important in the present context. I am consciously avoiding any talk about our life abroad. I am personally annoyed by those who return from the US and give a non-stop lecture on the virtues of a western lifestyle. I am also annoyed by those in India who criticize everything and anything that is western. So, I am being very cautious when answering questions that try to elicit my views on such topics.

There is another reason why people are curious about you. Just look at the way you dress. You are wearing the khakhis that you bought from Walmart, the Van Huesen shirts that you bought from Kohls and the jeans and the t-shirts that you bought from Sams Club. You obviously look very different from the people around you. You have to learn to ignore and downplay all kinds of curiosity about you. You will make your transition very miserable if you get too absorbed by this curiosity. It is natural for people to be curious about you especially when you make a drastic move. It takes some time for you to get adjusted to the new life. In the same way, the people around you will also take time to trust, respect and get adjusted to the new person i.e. you. Until then you will face some curious people.

There is just one more thing about curiosity. When you join a small school in a remote village you are likely to attract the attention of some higher ups in the organization. Depending on how you handle it, this can be turn out to be more of a bane than a boon. I have to leave this topic out for a future post!

But what is the bottom line? Curiosity is going to be a problem only when you think of it is as a problem. I think it is that simple and there is nothing beyond that. What do you think?

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