The odd one out

In North America, one is always being encouraged to “think outside the box”. Having spent the first twenty years of my life in India I was used to thinking inside the box, for instance, when considering a profession.

By Kumkum Ramchandani (PERSPECTIVE)

Published: Tue 21 Aug 2012, 10:57 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:30 PM

One had to strive to be an engineer, a doctor or a teacher or simply join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Magazine editors, news reporters, artists or advertising executives were definitely considered professions outside the box. Architects and administrators just made it inside the box by the skin of their teeth. Actors and airline hostesses? Forget it - way way outside.....

I bucked the system by becoming neither an engineer onr a doctor, but by finding work as a supervisor in a garment company. After immigrating to Canada twelve years ago, I came to realize that all my life I have, albeit unwittingly, been thinking outside the box. It is only now that I understand the dismay of my parents, teachers and other mentors, who were almost always, though through no fault of their own, “inside the box” people.

When I was a six-year-old, my parents tried to do the needful by sending me for Bharatnatyam classes, hoping that it would help me to become graceful and abandon my tomboyish ways. I refused to go to the teacher’s house so she was persuaded to come home to teach me. When I started learning, after a few sessions, I insisted on doing the steps my own way, thus trying to change the face of thousands of years of an established system. Not surprisingly, the teacher resigned in disgust.

When I was about eleven, I went through a “Hitler” phase when I drew swastikas all over my walls and books. I didn’t know a thing about Hitler and what he did, I just liked the look of the swastika. I recruited a veritable army of sweepers’ children and we went around the neighborhood shouting “Heil Hitler”. I’m pretty sure that if I had done this in Canada, I would have been dubbed a juvenile delinquent and sent for psychiatric evaluation.

When I was twenty three, I found myself in Lagos, Nigeria - married, unemployed and bored. All the other expatriate ladies busied themselves with kitty parties, shopping and socializing. I tried my hand at all these activities, but soon tired of them. Desperate for something to do, I marched into a Nigerian school near my home and asked the principal for a job. She was taken aback, but asked me to come and start work the next day. For some time, I was a hot topic of conversation among the Indian community, but soon the novelty wore off and I was happy doing something meaningful with my life.

When I was new to Canada, I took the controversial step of writing an article for a local newspaper about why immigrants from India leave their native land to look for greener pastures. Naturally, the article pointed out some negative aspects of living in India. The Indo-Canadian community here was up in arms and asked me to publicly apologise for being so disloyal to my place of birth. I consider this one of the bravest things I have ever done. And no, I didn’t apologize!

Recently, suffering from writer’s block, I decided to enrol in a creative writing class, hoping it would open the gates of imagination. Though the instructor was good at his job, he insisted on several do’s and dont’s that supposedly govern good literature. I found that this was not helping me to think outside the box and was actually stifling my individuality.

But doing stuff outside the box is not always easy. It takes a bit of courage, a bit of a thick skin and the ability to withstand societal pressure.

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