‘Minnal Murali,’ that was released in 2021, was not just a fantastically made superhero movie, but also one that dealt with a delicate topic – what being an outcast can do to someone, as portrayed mind-blowingly by Guru Somasundaram. (Tiny spoiler ahead) The obsession he developed towards a girl who showed him kindness amidst the cruel indifference shown by an entire village makes for a rather controversial debate – how or if you should go out of your way to show kindness to someone who behaves as or is perceived as a social outcast?

While the circumstances that lead to someone being ostracized need to be avoided right from the start, their childhood filled with love and care, and not indifference or bullying, it is not always in our hands alone. Sometimes you meet people who have lived all their lives devoid of positive attention from those around them and have already gone on to feeling like and looked at as an outcast – which can break your heart. All you want to do is help them feel like not everyone looks at them with aversion. But there are times when that could end up feeling like a mistake, considering the kind of consequences it brings up.

Please don’t get me wrong here. I am not trying to send out a message that you shouldn’t be kind to each other. Nor am I saying that anyone who is a loner can turn out to be a person who you should be cautious of while dealing with. My only point is that while we pass the message of being kind to everyone, we should also be aware of how the other person perceives our act of kindness, whether they would be able to take it in the right sense or handle it in the correct way, and most importantly, reflect on why it could be that they are the way they are. I speak purely in the light of my personal experiences in this context – some mild, some extreme – which I should say has made me rather wary when it comes to making friends and interacting with people.

The first of such experiences was with one of my schoolmates, whom I had known as an acquaintance for many years, but hadn’t talked much to until high school. Ever since we started interacting more, she started behaving like I was and should be her (best) friend and no one else’s, irritating the hell out of me with her disapproving looks and comments every time I was with others. Whether it was intentional or not, I don’t know. She wasn’t an outcast in any way, but she was still in the process of shaping her social skills. I ignored quite a lot of it because I felt that she never had a friend who qualified as her best friend and thought that maybe I should cut her some slack for that reason. However, it finally became totally unbearable when some of my friends from then and even my own mother started talking to me about how I should treat my ‘best friend’ better and give her more importance. No one seemed to care about the truth that I had just started hanging out with her hardly a year ago, that too in a group, and let alone being my best friend, she wasn’t even a close friend who I had any special connect with at that point.

I finally had enough and told her off, because at a young age, the judgement and accusations for no reason from those around me were affecting me quite badly and I just wanted some peace of mind. Thankfully, after a much-needed break from me and going to college elsewhere, she finally learned how to be friends with someone in a healthy way. Years later, we went on to become good friends, a kind of big sister-little sister connect between us, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Thank God for the happy ending there!

Unlike her, another friend of mine from my college days didn’t get any sense knocked into him from the hints I was giving and went on to be on a lifelong blacklist. He wasn’t a loner per se. But he didn’t really have any friends in the true sense of it. Just people he would hang out with, but none that understood or even liked him all that much, for that matter, from what I used to hear about him from the very same people who were seen with him. And then he found his one true friend – me. I shouldn’t have taken it as a compliment, I realized much later. I was simply happy to be a positive presence in the life of someone who wasn’t all that positive. To me, he was like many of my other close friends.

In hindsight, I should have seen all the red flags much earlier, especially the kind of extreme affection he had for me. People thought he was in love with me, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t even a possessive friend and had a decent equation with my then-boyfriend. In fact, when he suddenly went no contact with no explanation and seemed to be acting all weird, I feared that he might be going through a major low, and unlike how I would normally act, sought him out and ensured that he was fine. My bad, I must say! Much later, he went into a sort of temporary (I sincerely hope) phase of aimlessness in life and needed a crutch and I became that. I was happy to help him stay positive and give him some solace while he tried to find his real calling, but I soon found out that his affection had turned into an eerie obsession. It became so suffocating, obviously so with around 120 missed calls in less than an hour. I just wanted to escape the obsession, but those weren’t the days when you could block a number with ease like now. I went crazy listening to the ringtone, over and over and over and over – sometimes rejecting the call, sometimes letting it ring, sometimes picking up the call and putting the phone in a cupboard and closing it, sometimes switching off the phone. After months, I finally found peace when he gave up and probably decided it wasn’t worth it.

But there was someone who did not give up for years and while not aggressively, still behaved kind of like a semi-stalker. He was another collegemate of mine who I wasn’t even friends with. I had mentioned him once in a previous blog of mine about stalkers and people’s role in encouraging them. (https://insanereverie.in/cheerleaders-of-stalking/) He was a guy totally ridiculed and isolated by others, primarily for his eccentric nature, and his rather simpleton behaviour and appearance, which hid the amazing intelligence and a kind of shrewdness beneath. I used to feel pretty bad about this humiliating attitude thrown towards him by others and felt that a little kindness couldn’t hurt anyone. While I wasn’t friends with him, I did little things that probably made a big difference to him, like sitting beside him once in a while in class because others mostly didn’t prefer that seat, or smiling and saying a “hi” and making small talk at times. I didn’t know that for a guy who was excluded by others mostly, this was way too much attention and he would immediately decide that he was going to marry me someday. His efforts towards that cause were mostly frustrating and if I’m being honest, a little worrying too. Until two years back, he would suddenly pop up from nowhere in the form of a phone call or an email. Every time I had to ask him to stop contacting me, I have cursed myself for trying to be the “kind classmate” back in college.

Forgive me for sounding like a total sceptic. I do try to see the good in people and I do teach my girls to do the same too. And there are times when Vedu amazes me by refusing to ditch a kid just because every other kid is boycotting him/her that day. (Trust me, kids can be really mean and cruel sometimes.) Even when they ask her, ‘You are going to join our side, aren’t you?’ she doesn’t hesitate a second in replying, ‘No, she is alone. I am going to keep her company.’ That kindness does fill my heart with warmth. And I’m not going to snub that light of kindness.

However, as a mother, the safety and well-being of my girls take precedence above everything else. And in that light, I would never hold myself guilty for opening their eyes to the dangers they can expect in life, even from the most unexpected corners. I will encourage them to be kind; but at the same time, I will ask them to keep their eyes open for any red flags, so that they can pull themselves back before they find themselves suffocated and threatened by an unhealthy obsession from someone they just wanted to help. While my personal experiences have been rather mild, although annoying, there are many who end up in big trouble, sometimes losing their lives, only because they chose to be kind. And to make things worse, victims of such crime are subject to abhorrent character assassination by those who can only paint their kindness in a vulgar light. So, if our scepticism helps keep our kids safe, that’s all that matters – there’s no right or wrong in that. Teach them to be kind, teach them also to be not blind while being so.

Also published on Medium.