Dear Shilpa, Worry Not. We All Fake Read


Dear Shilpa, Worry Not. We All Fake Read

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza/Arré

Dear Shilpa Shetty,

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay that you have never read Animal Farm. I’m also here to tell you that it’s perfectly okay to have faked reading it.

Faking it is an important part of the world we live in and everyone who took you down yesterday has at one point or another faked stuff in their lives. I have too. Pretty much all my life. I’ve never faked an orgasm, but I fake knowing and reading things all the time. Here are some highlights from My Life As a Faker. 

Age 10
My best friend, her bitchy school friend, and I went to a lending library. I was 10 and twitchy. They were 13 and older and worldly. What did I have on my side? I read tons and had a killer vocab. If there was one place in the world I should have ruled, it should have been the library but here’s what happened.

Bitchy School Friend: My brother and I love Louis L’Amour. I really should get him a couple of new ones.

Faker Me: Oh! I love her.

Bitchy School Friend (now with disgust): Louis L’Amour is a man! They are cowboy novels! 

Age 14
I’m walking home from a yoga class with my neighbour. It is a cool morning and we are silent. Until she starts giggling. What, I ask. “Heeheeehee, when we were trying shirshasana, someone farted. Did you hear?” Sure, I’d heard. It was me. Did she know it was me? I think she did.

I could have confessed then. I never did.

Shilpa, do you judge people who fart when doing yoga? I bet you don’t. I bet you don’t even pretend you didn’t hear. I bet you only giggle. 

Age 23
I’m in a study group for post-modernist theory. Every week someone makes a joke about the sex lives of ML men. I have to ask someone what ML means and he says Marxist-Leninist. His face is twitching. I have a little bit of a thing for him but that ends there. Obviously, I never tell him or anyone in the group that I’d never, ever read Marx. Not even an annotated version.

At 25, I am in another study group that meets once a month. I have a job and am trying to push my intellectual horizons. I still haven’t read Marx. I tell everyone else, all young academics, that I haven’t read most of the things they know inside out. What does it matter, we are all here to read Foucault, my friend, who introduced me to the group, and others say kindly to me. Someone starts talking about Walter Benjamin one day. She stops mid-sentence and turns to me.

In the long, endless conversations of pseudos at parties, I am mostly silent.

“Do you know about the Frankfurt School,” she asks with a hint of apology.

“Of course,” I can’t stop myself. I catch the eye of the friend, who’d introduced me to the group. She probably knows I don’t know Frankfurt School from farsan. It’s too late to ask, do you mean Frankfinn School for air hostesses, hahahaha, and move on. That group would have laughed. Maybe.

In the long, endless conversations of pseudos at parties, I am mostly silent. I usually feel a bit lost, but this one time I was hoping to get an impressive sentence or two when I’ve a chance. Then when I open my mouth I realise I’ve confused the author they were discussing. Who confuses Hunter S Thompson, with Tom Wolfe?  I do. I’ve often been the pseudo at parties.

Age 28
An American writer doing long-form work in India visits my boss. My boss introduces him to me. I mention a New York Times long-form piece, set in India, that sounds like something he’d be interested in. I complain in a semi-charming way about the piece and say, “I like the pictures best.” My boss looks like she wants to jump out of the window. The visitor starts howling with laughter. Here’s the thing. I had only read the blurbs, headline, and of course looked at the pictures. He had written the piece. 

Age 30
An annoying British girl tells me about what she did in her gap year. (If you can have a gap year when you are 29.) “I don’t know if you know this Slovenian philosopher, but I spent a year helping him on a documentary about cinema.”

Angrez ki aulaad, I think to myself. “Oh you mean Žižek,” I ask casually.

Annoying British Girl, caught in the act of being a racist, condescending piggy, practically keels over in apology. I play cool and I’ve never even read Žižek.

Sometimes I get away with it, Shilpa. My career in faking it seems like a big #fail, but sometimes I do get away with it. You didn’t get away with it. Not this time.  But don’t give up.

Faking it is our moral right in this world. A world in which you are expected to be ready with snarky 140-character reactions for every fucking piece of news, where Oxford Dictionaries has to struggle to keep updating itself with Urban Dictionary, where more longlists and shortlists are announced in literature than ever before. Where you’re expected to have quotes and lyrics ready on hand when Castro or Cohen decide to die. The world is filled with relentlessly cool people doing relentlessly cool things and that’s the way it’s going to be. Bet those who are laughing can’t do a shirshasana. Certainly not without farting.

Mistress at Faking It