Breaking the ice

I resemble an ice carving; silent, apparently lacking human emotions. With persistent global warming it would be a matter of time before I melted away without a trace. So I borrowed a page from Barack Obama and decided to ‘change’ become more human. Make history in the process, even if it was confined to the book shelf of my family home.

I mentally backtracked to find the reasons for this turn of events. I started chipping away at the block of memory from early childhood. I found myself in my grandparents’ house. It was dark. Energy conservation was in effect and at exactly 7 p.m. the lights went out for two hours. In the early sixties, this was family prime time. Radio played only when it was plugged in. Television was merely read about in newspapers. The World Wide Web was still three separate words.

I sat cross-legged on the open porch wearing shorts and suspenders. My grandfather lay sprawled on his wooden recliner and snored softly. Grandma fed me mouthfuls of mashed rice and vegetables laced with stories from Indian epics.

Even after the dinner and stories were done with, we would sit there. Grandma, I imagined, would be thinking of next day’s menu or her patients scheduled for the week. Since I did not have any thoughts to worry about, I gazed at the dark moving shadows of the thick vegetation around the house. Though the night was warm, imaginary shapes of demons produced goose bumps on my body. Over time, the shapes grew friendly. I learnt to use the same darkness as a protective cloak throughout my youth. Did I stop talking because I was a single child?

Years later, I silently fell in love and married a wonderful person who spoke for both of us and then some more in her sleep! Wherever we went we attracted new friends and family. If there was one word they used to describe me, it’d be ‘quiet’. Some of them thought I was ‘every intelligent’. Others said, ‘I was a man of few words’. But they always added, ‘Silence is a virtue’. I stuck to my silence, talking just enough to exercise my vocal chords.

At the turn of the century we migrated to Canada. It took us sometime to make new friends. My wife found this period trying as she did not have enough people with whom to converse. If I did not talk, she cautioned me, she would stop speaking to me altogether. That only increased the monologue in her sleep. Sometimes I talked back to her!

Lately my silence became heavy. It threatened to burst and pour out random words to anybody who would listen. To stem the onslaught I started writing a blog. That did not help. Words rushed out; my typing could not keep up with the flow. It then dawned on me that I had to prise my mouth open and speak.

Could someone teach me to speak? What do I do with my hands? Should I wear trousers with side pockets so I could stick them inside? Regardless, I started talking. When I went for my walks I wished everyone “Good Morning” or “Good Evening” as the case may be. Most of them smiled and returned my greeting. In the height of winter my words froze in mid-air. Some of them took the time to cup their hands around it, warm it, and listen to it! I wished people in the subway, held doors open for them. When they thanked me I would say, “You’re welcome”. A live human being began to emerge. Joy and happiness permeated every pore of my body. I felt lighter. It was a wonderful feeling.

Things hit a snag when I started introducing myself. My father, in an unguarded moment of his life, named me with two words that were each a mile long. Teachers in my school had to bicycle from one end to read my whole name. My friends called me all sorts of names.

I devised new methods to shorten my name. Frankly, my friends did that for me. I had four sets of friends who called me by different names! And I received a fresh set of names since we migrated to Canada. My colleagues in the office anglicized my name. When I received mail, I found that letters disappeared from the end of my name. When I received telemarketing calls, I patiently listened to them wrestle with my name. If they didn’t get it right I would hang up. I thought I would end up with multiple personalities having to match my behavior to each name.

The icy personality threatened to take over again. Warmth went into hibernation. Before I became a fossilized human being, common sense whispered that I needed professional help.

As with anything these days, I turned to Google. The magic box suggested Toastmasters. I mustered up enough courage to contact one of its local chapters. The name Gavel and Glass appealed to me tremendously. So here I am, once again trying to break the ice. I hope the rest will become history of some sort.

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