Vivek comes to my desk at about 1.30 in the afternoon.
“Did you have your lunch?” he asks.
As the canteen is always crowded till 1.45, I generally go for lunch at about 2.00 – though many times when I reach there, the canteen has no food to serve.
“Not yet, I am just going.” I answer.
Vivek is my new teammate. Actually to call anyone ‘teammate’ here is making mockery of the words ‘team’ and ‘mate’. Everyone here is like a self declared leader. ‘Divide and Rule’ is one of the most used Management Skills even in NGO sector. Managers are happy as long as their subordinates are not a good team. Managers always play games with teams so that everybody feels insecure and unnecessarily competitive. People foolishly fall in that trap. In a way subordinates deserve this treatment. So, Vivek and I, though working together are not really a team, in the sense I perceive a team!
“Come, let us go for lunch, I am hungry,” Vivek urges me.
Now I am in a bit of dilemma. Vivek is by no means my friend. He is at most my colleague. If we are traveling together for official work then eating together and chatting together happens – because there are no alternatives. But in my own city, to have lunch with someone like Vivek (and that too alone) is not a very comfortable idea.
However, I cannot say ‘no’ to what Vivek is suggesting.
I am hungry. The restaurant Vivek is suggesting serves delicious food – that is one temptation. Vivek is not a complete stranger to me. He is a decent man. So far, I have not observed anything objectionable about and in him. We are not friends, but we are not enemies also. Saying ‘no’ would be unreasonable.
“Come on, what are you thinking about? Now don’t waste time in opening your wallet, I have money enough, let us go,” Vivek is almost dragging me out.
I decide to go.
We walk. We talk – little bit of office gossip, little bit of personal stuff. I ask him questions about his first language – which I am trying to learn through internet (that sounds funny, I know!). He suggests me few books. We talk about weather. We talk about traffic.
The restaurant is crowded as usual. We wait. We get a table. We order. We eat. We chat. We walk back.
All this while, I have a very strange feeling.
It is not for the first time that I am eating with someone whom I do not know much. I am known for chatting with strangers, spending time with strangers, taking interest in life of strangers, showing affection towards strangers etc. Many of my friends are worried about my capacity to be close to strangers. They feel that by close conversations with strangers I open myself to unforeseen risks. But I have always enjoyed interactions with strangers.
Here is Vivek, who is not a complete stranger to me. We are together in various discussions, meetings, planning, review etc. But I am not relaxed as I usually am. I am feeling bit weird. Why?
I remember German Sociologist Georg Simmel’s writing on this concept called Stranger. (http://www.infoamerica.org/documentos_pdf/simmel01.pdf)
And I wonder. When do people become known and cease to be strangers? Is it like crossing a line? What does this ‘crossing line’ indicate and entail? How does it evolve? Does time play important role in this phenomenon?
While coming back I am thinking about many people, many places, and many ideas which were once very close to me, with whom I was completely comfortable – but now they have become strangers to me and I have become a stranger to them. When and why do people cease to be close and become strangers? Why the places lose their charm and make you a stranger in the midst of the crowd? The ideas for which once I used to work hard, are now alien to me and new ideas replace them.
I wonder again – What triggers this process? Is it more of an external (worldly) process? If you don’t spend life together or don’t spend enough time together then you automatically become strangers? Or it is more of an inner (psychological) process? I mean you realize that your ideas differ, your values differ, your attitude to life differs, your responses differ and then you move away and become strangers again? Why this change happens? Where does this lead us?
Sometimes I feel so strange about myself. I feel as if I do not know myself enough; I am not sure about myself. I keep on changing so much that I feel ‘loss of identity’ time and again.
I enjoy interacting with strangers. Continuous dependence on ‘outside stranger’ is not good – because every stranger becomes an acquaintance after a certain time. And a 'brand new stranger' and ‘once known but now stranger’ are strangers of highly different qualities. One does not enjoy ‘once well known but now strangers’ as much as ‘new strangers’.
So, I guess being and becoming a stranger to oneself is the only assured way of having fun in life!