Perfectionists are a breed by themselves, not ready to fit into the ordinary mould and mode of life easily. They are a species apart, courting controversies at times, and, recoiling shyly into a shell the next moment.

Practice makes perfect, goes the adage. Unfortunately, one who is perfect normally finds the going tough. Leading life turns irksome for perfectionists. Being sensitive, they suffer for myriads of reasons. They are normally stamped as argumentative, uncompromising, complainants, weeping aunties, doubting Thomases, pessimists, party spoilers, rule-minded and what not. Persons not so well-organised generally find others tough nuts and stumbling blocks.

The other day, I was travelling by train in a 3-tier AC coach. I have no false claims or qualms of being a perfectionist except that I held a bona fide ticket. No sooner I settled into my berth quietly than a youngster appeared on the scene and asked me whether I would mind shifting to an adjacent coach (Thank God, not to the next train) as one of his friends (out of a party of six) was (sinned? and) allotted berth in the next compartment. He almost swooped to shift my luggage arbitrarily from the leg space, taking my coercive nod for granted. A man of fragile frame, I could not have resisted him physically though.

I did not wish to contaminate their bonhomie. I checked with him whether the one he was offering me was also a lower berth, as I had to alight at a mid-point station during unearthly hours. He said it was a side-upper berth. I said it would be inconvenient for me as I was six feet tall. (Not that I would have ungrudgingly hopped to that berth if I had grown a foot less). Half smilingly and twisting his body uncomfortably, he very humbly queried what I could have done had I been originally allotted a side-upper berth in the first place. He had a logic, quaint and queer, nevertheless. I did not wish to prolong the ordeal for him. (Anyway, at 59, I was also an odd man out in their company) I obliged him (though not merrily) as it meant buying peace (I could also simultaneously dread how turbulent and troubled my journey would be if I did not pay heed).

As the berth exchange was settled for good, I thought I could steal a pretty nap which I badly needed. It was not to be so. While I was about to mount and lodge myself in the newly acquired (cabinet?) berth, a middle aged woman resting on the side-lower berth below asked me whether I would barter mine for the opposite upper berth assigned for her son as the child tended to roll over and fall while asleep. (I learnt the rudiments of railway dynamics for the first time that falling from a side-upper berth was safer than tumbling down from a regular upper berth.) I did not ask her, out of civility, what if I darted on to the coach floor in my slumber from the upper berth she was offering.

I acceded to her request. As the train moved out of the platform and the commotion inside the compartment subsided, I found to my dismay, in the middle of the night, that both child and mother were sharing the same side-lower berth, leaving the side-upper berth vacant but for their luggage positioned there. (Did she perceive me as a potential nocturnal threat that she shifted me to an opposite one? My ego suffered a mild bruise).

I had a boss in the bank where I served. He was principled and also a strict disciplinarian. He never tolerated anyone using wrong words. He once asked me whether I could switch on the “artificial wind blower.” I looked frantically for such a hitherto unheard-of equipment existing in his cabin. He chided me for not even knowing the correct phrase for a “fan.” (According to him, “fan” is too general a term to be used for an electrically operated ceiling fan.) He always called a spade a spade. (Of course, a spade cannot be called a goat unless when one is mentally deranged).

Once when he wanted me to go out and meet a client I told him politely that “It was raining heavily outside.” He admonished me that it should rain only outside and it was enough if I conveyed, “It was raining.” He always corrected me whenever I said “concerned department.” He would say, “Department concerned.”

A young visitor once knocked at his cabin door and asked, “Can I come in, Sir” My boss retorted: “Try, if you can.” The visitor disappeared into thin air instantly.

My father-in-law was also one such perfectionist who found the going arduous. Even at home, whenever he volunteered to help the womenfolk with family chores during festivals and ceremonies, they would make fun of his perfectionist attitude. When he was allowed to cut vegetables rarely during occasions, he would, of course, bring an old geometry box and measure the length of each vegetable so that it was cut into uniform pieces to counter and balance any possible uneven frying or boiling. My mother-in-law would simply snatch away the vegetables and the cutting apparatus from him, pungently remarking that at his pace of precision-vegetable-surgery, food would be ready only the succeeding year. Poor man used to abandon his mission and switch to other tasks not relevant to the kitchen.

My father-in-law once hired a worker to climb the coconut trees in the backyard of his house and pluck ripe nuts. The labourer crawled up the tree and started plucking unripe ones. My father-in-law lost his cool at the sight and yelled at the man from below, “Don't you have brains? Didn't I tell you to pluck the ripe ones?” The workman got wild at this rebuke and murmured inaudibly, “If I had brains, you would be here on the top of this tree and I would be in your place, lording from below.”

A man in his forties once happened to meet my father-in-law during a train journey and befriended him. Asked what he was doing, the man replied, “To be honest, Sir, I am unemployed.” My father-in-law turned to me and asked, “What has honesty to do with his unemployment?” My mother-in-law always dreaded and trembled at the prospect of fist fights that might follow as her husband would not take idiocies in his stride during his outings. She would take the lead in hiring and negotiating with autodrivers and porters and also buy things from vendors en route to scuttle grammar wars and contradictions.

Perfectionists are a breed by themselves, not ready to fit into the ordinary mould and mode of life easily. They are a species apart, courting controversies at times, and, recoiling shyly into a shell the next moment. Their art of living is peculiar though it may appear odd and eccentric to other specimens.

(The writer's email ID is pushpasaran@yahoo.co.in)

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