The pressure to be perfect is all a bit much isn’t it? To behave, to perform, to live within one&’s means, to earn more, to turn up on time, to be liked, to be successful…we are all constantly cowed by self-imposed restrictions. Disgrace, properly done, is a joyful act — so throw off that mantle of respectability, liberate yourself from the burden of good behaviour and spit in the eye of censure and approbation.
Sooner or later — if you are to avoid becoming a repressed bag of nerves — everyone must cross the line. If you do so unwittingly or are unprepared, then you are done for. If, however, you can brush off the dust, ignore all damage, hold your head high, look disgrace in the eye and say, “So what?” then disgrace becomes your plaything and the broken rules, allies. Ignore or accept it but never be ashamed or it will smother you.
Get drunk, fall over. Scream abuse at a friend&’s partner, sleep with a friend&’s partner, bite someone, and assume inappropriate lewdness — all in broad daylight if possible. Fall over on the dance floor or at a terribly important or fashionable party. Roar, jump up again, laugh, grab a drink, kiss the nearest lips, and then retire with a wink and a huge grin! So what if you knock over a bottle of champagne; tore a dress or bruised an ankle? You are enjoying yourself immensely.
Faced with what is actually relatively harmless enjoyment, it is incredibly difficult to tut disapprovingly unless you wish to appear the very stereotype of a bitter spoilsport, a fun-hating and complaining old headmaster. Who can deny such spirit in a world of mediocrity, boredom clones and social repression? You’ve released the silent pressure, loosened everyone&’s collars and become their vicarious prophet!
But for as long as you accept this as only half true, and that most people will actually think you are a prize idiot then you become that. If you don’t care what they think or at least give the impression of not caring, then you’ve got away with it. (The other way of getting away with it, of course, is to be powerful, rich or famous).This is not to say that, for the drink-spiller, marriage-wrecker, friend-infuriator and scourge of hostesses, bouncers, the young and innocent, a quick, “I am sorry” won’t work wonders. But you can’t actually acknowledge that what you have done is wrong — just that it may have caused some offence to the more uptight other party.
My ideal of disgrace is exemplified by the image of an actor-friend at a party in Mumbai&’s Malabar Hill. A young fan, a girl no more than 16, was incredibly pleased to share the company of the star. She indulged in giving him a piggyback knowing that he was a size significantly larger than her. Her face was torn between the grimace of exertion (she dare not drop him), the necessity of not showing discomfort and the aforementioned pleasure. The actor-friend was, of course, having a sadistic whale of a time at the cost of the girl&’s indulgence. Being an absolute creep and getting away with it too. He couldn’t care less about humiliating a young girl if he found it fun. But the fact is that it was fun (partly because he was being such a creep) and by plunging headlong into the awfulness of the whole thing, he somehow got away with it.
But we can forget Mumbai&’s showbiz shenanigans here and move on to “real” life. On any given Saturday night, in every swinging centre of India&’s metropolitan cities, one can witness hordes of screaming sophomores, who believe boob-flashing, vomiting and drunken driving to be the apotheosis of disgrace. One must cultivate sophistication and inventiveness in one&’s behaviour to be properly called disgraceful. At least, there are still politicians and bureaucrats especially bred for amusing, inappropriate and career-destroying sexual indiscretions. Every time a civil servant or college professor is caught with his pants down, I feel, the world&’s axis is back in proper alignment.
The opprobrium of those around must be stretched to its very limits and you must draw your strength from it. Do you want a reputation as a respectable, compliant mouse or a fireball of impulsive, self-assured, devil-may-care independence?