“Dear Obama, please stop over paying Malayalis. They are torturing Malayalis in Kerala…., I am going to write to the U.S. president” said my dad, having narrowly escaped bumping into an annoying US return relative. Wait. What? Yup, I said it. Annoying. Boastful. Insensitive. The list of adjectives locals use for describing most of the U.S. returnees of God’s own country is long & colorful. But Why? Well the returnees who are dreaded even feared by locals generally suffer from PDS (Post Dollar Syndrome). Some of the symptoms include tendency to torture hapless audience with self-obsessed rants of their brief life in the states, display of age defying energy to ramble about newly generated financial assets & the inability to understand the lack of interest or the growing irritation of the now captive audience.
The Psychology of Boasting
It‘s just a ‘Hi’ and a few rambles. what’s the big deal? You ask. Boasting is a human characteristic, most humans can’t escape from. It is an art we have learnt and have been practicing before Christ. No kidding. Boasting is a physiological urge we just can’t stop. Sometimes, the boasting is a planned strategy to build a larger than life impression for a better job or social status. Whether someone is just an occasional bragger or a sufferer of some personality disorder, the audience is almost always bugged. Just like Narcissus from the Greek mythology who falls in love with his own reflection, the braggers fall in love with themselves so much that they often overestimate the positive reaction they get from their audience. Frustrated after his love was not returned, our legendary Narcissus turned into a quiet harmless little flower.
But thanks to social media, our real life narcissists and compulsive boasters are now noisier than ever. They can now bug anyone on the internet by broadcasting their rants in a swipe anytime, anywhere. Thank god, for certain notification settings that has helped a few of us to shut off things that we don’t want to hear on social media.
Research indicates that 40% of our speech is dedicated to telling others about what we feel or think. Bragging triggers the same sensations in the brain that are associated with eating and having sex. Apparently bragging is a guilty pleasure we just can’t resist, no matter what.
‘Do not boast about tomorrow. You don’t know what a day will bring.’ says an old biblical proverb. Even the bible tried and failed to stop us from being douche bags. We love talking about ourselves so much that we‘d do anything to get an audience. A Harvard study conducted in 2012, found that people were ready to pass financial incentives just to get the chance to talk about themselves. No amount of religious or financial intervention can stop us from boasting. That’s right. Nothing can stop us.
The Senior Malayali Bragger
The cave men must have started it with ‘who has a bigger stick’ contest. Gradually, we must have moved on to bragging about everything from our spouses, house, education, kids, salary package to the awesome breakfast we ate. Some of us have taken our impression management efforts to an astronomic level. Indian bragging usually starts with ‘My kid’s better than yours. I won! Yay’ in the most non subtle way.
The most vicious braggers in Kerala are the parents of Mallus settled in the U.S. More than their children who are settled in US, it is the parents themselves who are the most eager to brag. Just like people avoid insurance agents selling high premium high risk policies, most locals in Kerala now avoid senior citizens returning from the U.S.
Just how far would an enterprising Malayali go, to brag? The senior Mallu braggers with painfully long & detailed self-obsessed rants have started realizing the importance of a captive audience for their bragging sessions. There is a real shortage of a good audience for bragging sessions these days. To combat the problem, senior braggers have devised innovative solutions. If the audience can’t come to you. You go to the audience.
The Determined One
One uncle described his torment at the hands of a couple who bragged & bragged for 4 hours of an entire train journey from Mangalore to Tellicherry. The senior couple even had an expanded phone memory with photographic details of the lives of their children settled in the US. No amount of changing the subject, acting disinterested helped. As the train stopped, station after station, my uncle began to lose his patience and the hope of ever getting away from these bragging champions. He sorely regretted, the “Hello, Sugam anno” that started this painful marathon. Having heard everything from the hobbies, to the baby sitters to the dinner set they use at home, my uncle waited eagerly for Tellicherry railway station. As the bragging continued, the station arrived and my uncle happily got up to run away from the couple.
Bragger Uncle: “Wait. We’ll drop you. Our driver is coming. I did not finish the story about, how we ended up with 1 crore cash.… bla bla bla”
My Uncle: “Oh its OK. Some other time, maybe. Besides, my house is on the other side of the town, and…”
Bragger Aunt: (With a big evil smile) “No problem, we insist.”
My Uncle: (Straining all his IQ & mind power) “But, you see I have to visit this relative on the way…. In the hospital…. He is down with this … very dangerous viral fever that’s in news”
Disappointed at not having finished their story but fearful of a contagious disease, the couple said bye to my relieved Uncle ‘in a hurry’. My uncle made it a point afterwards to avoid this gentleman & his wife, as far as possible. He has been fearful of starting a conversation with any senior returning from the U.S. since then. Nobody stands a chance against the boastful Malayali. Not even Super heroes.
Another neighbor retold an experience about an old school mate, known for his vicious bragging skills thanks to an IIT pass out, son settled in the U.S. He boasted relentlessly, everywhere and anywhere. Funeral or wedding, child or adult, no one was spared. His penchant for self-publicity soon made him an effective people repellent. He was so notorious, acquaintances, relatives, neighbors and even insurance agents looking for a catch started running away from him. Since, no one visited him, he soon came up with a brilliant plan to visit his old retired friends for finding an audience to brag. Each day he would set out seeking a new victim. My neighbor who was unaware of his friend’s hidden love for self-promotion was very happy to have a visit from his old 1St std classmate. Who doesn’t love reconnecting with their childhood, the nostalgia of the good old school days?
The pleasantries got over quickly. My neighbor’s delight soon turned into a plight just like a warm angelic looking meal on plate that suddenly turns into an angry hulk once inside the belly. The bragging session began with explanation from the former class mate, now champion bragger about his son’s house in the U.S. and the luxury cars he owned. After two cups of tea and one old, long Malayalm movie on Asianet, my neighbor & his wife now understood why each family member in the senior braggart’s house had two cars for two different purposes. They also understood the need for avoiding the senior gentleman at all costs.
My neighbor has now become expert in changing quickly and sliding out the back door of his house, at the mere mention of the senior braggart. Lungi or pant, he manages to put on a shirt & speed out of the house with the stealth of a cat, before getting caught in another bragging session. Rumor has it, that our senior bragger is now a vicious hunter. He hunts for retired audience for his bragging sessions in the neighborhood. If there was an Olympic event for bragging, our senior bragger would’ve brought home the Gold.
The One Who Lures With Tasty Food
It’s not just men who are found of bragging. Women enjoy it too. A certain queer family of three learned this, the hard way.
The trio visited an old aunt who invited them over for lunch. Who doesn’t like catching up over delicious Kerala ‘Sadhya’? As fish fries and Papadums were passed across the table, with happy conversations about movies, neighbors & random stuff from the world, there was a mention of the aunt’s sons who were settled in the U.S. The bragging was very subtle initially, with the usual harmless, ‘How is everyone?’ pleasantries.
Soon, to the dismay of the family, hard-core bragging started. The trio wanted to eat up fast and run out of the sticky situation. But our senior was in no mood to finish soon. She quickly connected a USB drive with unknown amount of memory space to the TV to show off the pictures of her family settled in the U.S. Sure enough, there were a zillion family pictures. And the aunt had a story to tell for each picture no matter how blurry it was.
Our family of three had the horrific realization that this was not going to end soon. Thank fully, after sometime, the witty father of the family asked for some hot water and the now excited bragger rushed to the kitchen quickly, so that she could resume her story telling. The trio jumped at the TV. They worked with the precision of a bomb defusing squad. With time ticking by, they quickly sped and got to the last image of the album. “Make it look realistic, go back to the last 5 images or she will get suspicious.” suggested the wife.
A glass of hot water & eager eyes greeted the now smiling trio. “But did you see all the photos?” asked our champion bragger, confused by the speed with which the album browsing session got over. “Yes. Yes. We did”, the trio quickly thanked and left the scene. When a Malayali begins to brag, there is no option but to leave everything & run.
The Bragger from The Past
As my father, recounted how he had to get away from his old friend who is now a seasoned bragger, thanks to his U.S. settled children, our cat perched itself on the table for its post lunch nap. He told how sometimes, life itself shows you the bigger picture and makes you humbler.
“I never realized how torturous bragging is to the person who is listening till I myself became a victim. Even I was a bragger once.” He said.
He recounted an incident in his childhood. As a nerdy, studious child, he was a proud teacher’s pet wherever he went. He told how he would often visit the school in his mother’s impoverished village and brag about everything he learnt in town. It was pleasurable for him to be appreciated by the teachers of the schools where he never studied. It was equally annoying for the kids who actually studied there.
One day, on the way back to his mother’s home, he kept torturing the local kids with more gas talk about the town. Fed up of the constant boasting, one of the kids pushed him in the muddy paddy field. The kids had a good laugh. Anyone can fall flat on their face, at any time in life. A lesson, my bragger dad learnt as he waded through the brown muck of the field. The boasting instantly stopped.
“I must thank that fellow for what he did. I was such a douche bag. Somebody had to stop me.” Said my dad now enjoying the bliss of retirement.
To put it simply, if you want to be impressive, don’t brag. Nobody cares.