People, Learn to Take a Friggin’ Compliment


People, Learn to Take a Friggin’ Compliment

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The typical conversation after a typical gig night for a typical up-and-coming stand-up comic goes something like this.

“That was a great set. You’re so talented.”
“Thanks bro”

It’s a fairly simple transaction and perhaps a joyful one that makes up for the sometimes thankless job of making people laugh for very little money. But for some reason this has not been my experience. If you happen to overhear a friend corner me after gig night and cheer me up over my performance, the conversation will play out something like this:

“That was a great set. You’re so talented.”
“Shut up dude!”
“Nahi bro. Sach mein you’re awesome.”
“… Jaa na gaandu!”

This is the post-gig conversation I had with an acquaintance recently. A couple weeks ago, I also responded to a relative’s, “You have a great way with words, beta” with “I am garbage compared to my peers. Kind of judging your taste right now, Deepak Uncle!”

Cue awkward silence.

Travesties such as these are routine for me. For as long as I can recall, I respond to compliments the way the Indian cricket fan responds to Virat Kohli’s poor performance – by showing zero chill. My first instinct is to assume that the person giving the compliment is either taking the piss out of me or wants a huge-ass favour.

Growing up as a centre back for the school football team, snarky comments were the closest thing to compliments I experienced from my peers. When you’ve spent most of your teenage years being teased with remarks such as “nice legs, Thakkar” and “lol, great dribbling skills,” it makes taking genuine compliments a little harder.

The few compliments that pass the is-he-taking-the-piss-out-of-me litmus test, go and promptly fall into my self-created Anjali Trap. Remember Kajol in her most Kajol role yet – the screechy Anjali from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham – who firmly believes that Rahul’s flirtatious advances are nothing but devious plans to usurp her bauji’s halwaai shop? Just like Anjali seems to have had a line of dubious suitors, I’ve had way too many people compliment my work and then go on to conveniently ask if I’d be willing to work for free. If you’re wondering at this time if I have self-esteem issues that need sorting then you’re probably right.  

Like any self-aware, over-informed millennial, I’ve done my research and have self-diagnosed my Impostor Syndrome

Like any self-aware, over-informed millennial, I’ve done my research and have self-diagnosed my Impostor Syndrome, a term coined in 1978. Which, according to this Forbes article, is “a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of achievement. Basically, when you feel inadequate despite evident success.” There’s a big part of me that lives in constant fear of being exposed as a fraud, that one day, everything I’ve accomplished will be outed as one big series of flukes. I assure you, it isn’t an easy life. For me or for Anjali.

But this is where a seemingly trivial issue of not being able to take a fucking compliment can be a pretty insidious thing. It not only flirts with undermining your self-worth but also finds its way into your relationships. Oh yes, my allergy to praise extends to my love life as well. Over the years, I’ve developed template responses to lovey-dovey advances. The “I love what you’re wearing in your DP” warrants a “not nearly as appealing as your blue skirt though.” It’s amazing how many relationships I’ve coasted through by simply complimenting my partner back instead of saying a basic thank you.

But for all the grief that my Impostor Syndrome has given me, I’m glad that it has deterred me from falling prey to entitled behaviour. In the past month, it’s become fairly obvious that Indian men believe that having the XY chromosome, coupled with some level of success is the cheat code for douchebaggery. Who knows? May be if more men had Impostor Syndrome, it could even save us from enduring another Chetan Bhagat.

So yes, I stand by my notion of compliments being mundane. Especially verbal ones. The best gestures of appreciation are the little, unspoken acts of kindness that strangers do for you. For instance, my chaat wala bhaiya who puts a little meetha chutney in my teekha-chutney-only pani-puri, because he knows I am prone to bad life decisions. And I think that’s beautiful.