I have unknowingly formed a habit of watching people closely while trying to read their characters as they begin to interact and talk with others or myself. It is interesting to note their gestures. The smile, the tone of the voice or the handshake already gives away some insight into their personality.
As student of literature or maybe because I am just the way I am, whenever an unknown person appears in my territory, the first thing that catches my eye is the overall size, the type of clothes they are wearing and the hairstyle. Some opinion will form on the appearance side.
Now we begin to converse. I notice the tone, maybe the teeth as he opens his mouth to speak, the gestures, the comfort level he generates while sitting, his posture, the words that are being used. These show bits of his personality.
My professor used to say, ‘Students of literature are always trying to decipher the minds of people they meet – which is not a very good thing to do. We should try to stop this because we are not reading characters in novels. Here we are dealing with normal lives’. But characters in novels and elsewhere are human too aren’t they? Writers have experienced how people behave in their surroundings. Characters, therefore, cannot be inhuman. They are alive and living amongst us all – I argue.
What he said may be true to a certain extent because we have dissected multiple characters and the minds of protagonists in the course of our studies. So the need to dissect comes easy. Pretty weird come to think of it.
People do fit into various categories – the ambitious, the reclusive, the loud, the extreme, the arrogant, the stylish, the nerd, the bully, the bullied, the pessimist, the optimist, the serious – just to name some.
Some people nicely fit into the standard characterizations but I have come across some who just doesn’t seem to fit in any of the general categories and I have wondered why. An example : There is this unmarried woman in her mid-thirties, with a highly professional degree, South Asian, smart, good average looks, slim and in a good position at work. She laughs and talks quite loudly, she works hard, she presses her points, wears traditional clothes to work because she needs to interact with government officials. So one would think of her to be a very traditional as well as professional – right?
But there are other sides to her character. She dresses up in a feminine way but is not so. She almost wrestles with her words by taunting the presenter who is trying to give some presentation. She tries to overrule the facts given. She tries to project one thing but she is quite another. There is conflict in her character which amuses and confuses me at the same time.
It’s interesting to note that people do wear masks and costumes in real life too. Life is, after all, a drama – I strongly believe in those words.