Over the last two days, I’ve had an incredible number of people asking me who Nin is. The first and latest being a friend, who sometimes tends to be a trifle schizophrenic. He’s a good-looking man, no doubt, but what do you say about a guy who randomly sends you messages asking if he reminds you of Tom Cruise from Top Gun, or who turns up at a hangout and announces that, with every passing day, he’s beginning to look more and more like George Clooney. I show him the hand. But the latest, I’ve finally given in to. He wants me to call him Dorian Gray, and since the dude is a fictitious character, I’ve decided to humour him.
Dorian Gray is one of the few people in my life who haven’t had the good fortune to meet Nin. This post is for him and for all the others. And for Nin, of course.
Nin and I met in college. She was the nerdy first-bencher all the teachers loved and the students were wary of. She wore thick glasses, had one friend and notes for everything, and she spent all her spare hours in the library. While everybody scampered around the photostat guy for readings just before the exams, the sagely Nin had already read most of everything on our reading lists in original. I, at that point in time, was the back-bencher, too busy having fun with the friends I’d carried from school into college, and so, I couldn’t have been bothered with the likes of Nin, or even Jaan, Heh, Madcap or Cha.
Our second year in college was a bit of a watershed, for me and Nin in particular. Nin’s only friend left to study something fancy at a university in the US, and she was left all alone. I, on the other hand, had decided to pull my socks up and get my act together. So I ditched the last bench for the first, and found myself sitting beside Nin. We exchanged smiles over the next few weeks. Nin, meanwhile, had started spending her non-library time with Jaan and Heh. I’d started doing a very Nin-like thing. Bebo and I had broken away from the original gang because it was getting too clique-ish for us, and we were spending a lot of time in the library. Bebo and Madcap had found common grounds in Africa–they’d spent most of their growing up years abroad. And so, our non-library time was mostly spent in the college lawns with Madcap. I was introduced to Nin and Heh by Madcap. I was fascinated by Nin. How could someone just breeze through life, at her own pace, oblivious to everything around her. Even the way she walked was almost obscene in its disdain of the rat race around her. The Mother put it to words, “Nin doesn’t walk, she floats.”
Yes, Nin lives in a dream. And you can’t pinch her awake. Because she is awake. She knows exactly what’s going on outside of her dream, but therein lies the beauty of Nin. She decides what she wants to acknowledge and what she doesn’t want to. How can you live life like that, Dorian Gray would say. Well, I wondered too. And the answer is, you can. Because Nin conforms without being a conformist. Nin has never managed to hold a job down for longer than six months. And we worried about her. But the girl is doing just fine. She’s quite the maverick. She’s tried her hand at academics, publishing, even a government job. On paper, she’s unemployed because she simply won’t do what she doesn’t like doing. She’s too true to herself for that. No, she won’t sell her soul for a hundred million. Dorian Gray may not approve, but does she care?
Nin will do what she wants to and how she wants to. But, somehow, she’s never outrageous in asserting her individuality. Because Nin doesn’t rebel for the sake of rebelling. She doesn’t wear her beliefs on her sleeve or on her chest. She doesn’t dress to attract attention, though there are times that you will look because she’s so eccentric. She doesn’t believe in doing crazy things to her hair or her body. That’s just not her style. She’s way too classy for it. It’s just the fact that she doesn’t give a damn either way. She doesn’t care for your approval. She does everything that will get her approval, but she’s doing it because she wants to do it, and not because somebody will appreciate her for it. If she spent hours in the library, and had read up everything we were supposed to, it wasn’t because it would get her good marks or that the teachers would praise her in class (which they did), but because she has an appetite for books and for knowledge.
Nin is like Alice in Wonderland. Every little thing amazes her. She can stare at a bougainvillea flower as if it’s the first time she’s seen it. Because every flower has its own identity to her. It’s not the first time she’s a flower. But it’s the first time she’s seen that flower. And it just may be the last, so she needs to breathe it in. It was the fascination I saw in her eyes when she looked at me the day Madcap introduced us in the cafeteria that drew me to her. I needed to get under the skin of this mysterious, complex creature. And I did.
How I did it, I may never know. Because Nin is shy. She never speaks much. Not even when it’s a private conversation between her and me. I’m the one talking always. Well, not much of a surprise in there, but still. I usually go into the conversation with all the questions and I always come away with all the answers. No, Nin doesn’t like giving answers. And my favourite evasive technique, I owe to her, “Because.” Notice the full stop? Yes, Dorian Gray, now you know.