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Are You A Non-Conformist? An Oddball? Eccentric?

Quirky, unusual and offbeat. Excessively interested in a certain occupation. Eating, dressing or acting differently from the average person. Indifferent to what people think of them. Innovative and gifted with strokes of genius, but also called names like weird or wacky. How many people in your life have you met who display these traits on a regular basis?

Or, better still, how many times have you looked at the man (or woman) in the mirror and realised that you are mostly thinking and doing stuff “outside the box”? In short, have you met those or are one of those who may be fit to be called “eccentric”? And is it ok to be one?

I have met so many of them in my life, and confess to realising in retrospect that some of the things I have done in my life had shades of eccentricity. I naturally gravitate towards the not-so-run-of-the-mill kind, and often relate to them. Artist Sakina Hussain says, “I am eccentric and I feel great being quirky. Quirky people are interesting, provided their eccentricity is not studied.” Fact is, as a friend says, that “Each one of us is eccentric at times.”

Even the most pragmatic and boringly practical ones, in moments of nostalgia, confess to having done crazy things on a whim. Ironically, the realistic kind of people often romanticise about those moments in their lives where they followed their hearts and did things in the name of a craze, love or passion which they wouldn’t dream of doing now. Things like bungee jumping, waiting for hours in freezing winter evenings to catch a glimpse of the beloved as she stepped out of her home for that after-dinner stroll, or staying indoors for six straight days working on a science experiment that was a passion.

But an eccentric person, in the true sense of the word, is not one who follows his heart and does unusual stuff once in a while. Definition of the word is someone who deviates from an established or usual pattern or style and from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways. Edith Sitwell says that geniuses and aristocrats are called eccentric because “they are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.” – cite_note-3

English Utilitarian thinker John Stuart Mill wrote that “the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained.” Mill also felt that a lack of eccentricity is “the chief danger of the time”.

Psychological studies point towards certain signs of eccentricity. Some of these could be: a non-conforming attitude, idealistic, intense curiosity, happy obsession with hobbies, knowing very early in his or her childhood they are different from others, highly intelligent, opinionated and outspoken, unusual living or eating habits, not interested in the opinions or company of others, naughty sense of humour and being usually the eldest, or an only child.

Eccentricity is often associated with being unusually gifted. This could mean genius, intellectual giftedness, or creativity. The unsual behaviour could be an outward reflection of extraordinary intelligence, talent or passion. The minds of eccentrics are so original that they cannot conform to societal norms. Eccentricity is also believed to be associated with great wealth. Stories of wealthy business tycoons or celebrities with peculiar idiosyncrasies are legendary.

Michael Jackson’s obsession with Peter Pan and childhood fables is a typical example of our times. Certain professions seem to be fertile growing grounds for eccentrics. The oddities of discoverers and scientists are perhaps a reflection of minds so unique, that they are often not understood by the common man. Einstein’s unusual hairstyle defied all standards of conformity and was symbolic of eccentricity. Designers, painters, actors, writers and poets – all these professions require the traits of unusual sensitivity, observation and creativity. It is then not difficult to understand why do we find people in these fields of work who dress, talk or lead lives in a manner that is anything but usual. Come to think of it, how often do we find an accountant or a banker displaying strokes of unusual creativity and coming to work with hair dyed blue or talking to the stars?

Saima Rauf, an artist and art teacher, says, “Creative people often deviate from the normal principles of doing things. If you study the lives of many artists, you come to know that they did not lead lives we call normal. Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, Sadeqain, Bashir Mirza and many more creative people did not lead what we call normal lives.” Deeply creative people also have a different way of looking at ordinary things. I always marvel the imagery when I read Faiz’s masterpiece Dasht-i-tanhai mein or poetry by Gulzar in a singer’s lilting voice saying Peeli dhoop pehen ke tum dekho baagh mein mat jana. Rauf cites examples too. “Picasso thought of a cycle seat as a painting and put the handles on it as horn, and Sadeqain started to think of cacti as human beings.”

When asked would she like to follow the path of the greats that have inspired her, Rauf says, “All these artists had great a impact on my life and I want to be like them, but as I have many responsibilities I cannot do that. I may be eccentric but only to an extent.” Perhaps Rauf has nailed it on the head. While we may make fun of the eccentrics for their oddities, a part of us yearns to be as creative as them.

We wish we had their courage and originality to be able to live life on our own terms. Many a time, we may have creativity, but responsibilities and the fear of the consequences of non-conformity make us suppress that. But those who dare to be different must be given their due share of admiration, for swimming against the tide is never easy.

Published in Dawn, 20th Feb, 2011:


About FarahnazZahidi

Journalist, writer, Communications practitioner, teacher, media trainer | Literature | Gender Parity | Peace | Islam | Very Desi | Chaai, not coffee.

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