Saturday, September 28, 2013

Unpleasant exit of good old pleasantries

Being an Army kid does have its advantages! I remember mom admonishing me when I was a little more than a toddler for not wishing an uncle good morning. “You do not look through people, or act coy and peep out at them from behind me!” she warned. “You must wish them properly!” And so I did, and the habit has stayed with me for decades now.
I would sometimes even startle folks by jumping out at them from behind a tree, chirping cheerily, “Good afternoon, auntie, uncle!” It came to a point when they started looking over their shoulders any time they passed my house, for fear that they would suddenly be waylaid by my beaming little face and squeaky voice.
Not surprisingly, at a certain event my name was called out and I was given a little medal for being the best behaved child in the cantonment, a feat mom was rather proud of. My daughter too began lisping ‘Goomoning!” even when she was toddling about on her chubby legs.
However, it is distressful that this habit of wishing people, especially elders, has died out in today’s world. I have come across children who will either ignore you, as if that would make you disappear from sight, or glare at you, wondering why you were ever born to torture them. The other option is to smile shyly and hide behind a curtain, a chair or their mother’s sari, whichever is within arm’s length.
Of course, there are young souls who glance at you and say hi or hello in clear ringing tones, even if they are about four decades younger than you. But it is acceptable as a frivolous greeting is better than none!
It comes as a shock when you walk into someone’s house, and prepare to sit on their one free chair (the rest covered with books, magazines and pets!), only to find a small form ensconced comfortably within it, eyes glued to the television, hardly breathing, and in no mood to shift. Alternatively it could be a big hulk, sprawled out, hairy legs stretched out, straddling most of the room, accompanied by his friends. Not even by a flicker of an eyelid do they acknowledge there is a bewildered person in their vicinity!
In both cases, you look about feebly, even as the host says warmly, “Sit down please!” and disappears within to call his wife, his mother, his daughter in law, and the family dog!
It is sad to think that many youngsters miss out on the bountiful blessings of people older than them, blessings that go a long way to ensure that benevolence and love envelop them wherever they go. There is no denying that the good wishes of grandparents, teachers, elders and even compassionate strangers play a vital role in bringing positivity into young lives.
Our epics describe instances where irate gurus and ill-tempered sanyasis would curse those who disrespected them. Thank God those days have disappeared into the annals of history, or slipped into the Harry Potter chronicles.
Finally, to quote Thomas Sowell, “Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.” Now, there’s an inspiring thought!

New Indian Express
26th September 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Watch Out for the Weirdos!



Dante’s Inferno could not be more chaotic, I muse! Our car crawls along on a surface, choc-o-bloc with vehicles, bumper to bumper in four wavy lanes, originally meant to house two orderly lines, ‘orderly’ being a misnomer, of course! The signal glints red, and before it turns ochre, buses start blowing their horns frantically, noisily revving their engines. The car ahead moves forward tentatively, not wanting to ram into a scooter that is a miracle in itself, with five people clinging on to one another - a father, a mother and three children of varying sizes, all pasted together like a club sandwich! The bus behind complains incessantly, ignoring dirty looks, as the signal turns green with reluctance, and a cacophony of horns break out, as at the start of an ancient battle.
As the vehicles begin to move, two jay walkers dart across the road, holding up their hands in supplication, causing curses to add to the confusion. An auto rickshaw driver, hardly the most polite homo sapien alive, sticks his head out, hawks loudly and lets out a stream of red spittle, narrowly missing our windscreen. Our driver screams at him, and the aforesaid homo sapien decides to sidle out, finger his collar and stick his head through our window to scream back. By now one can sense tempers around us getting frayed.
Four lanes of vehicles lurch forward, brakes squeal and heads hit windscreens, smoke and pollution redden eyes, and the stench of petrol [for those who hate the smell!] fills the interior, making me gag! On one occasion, we were stuck at a signal, and my daughter, who gets car sick at the sight of a car, felt faint. On the other side, my mother lolled against her window, trying not to breathe in the fumes. I was caught between them, wondering whom to attend to first. When the car moved, both recovered, but not before they had scared the daylights out of me!
One television advertisement always evokes a smile, the one that says, “Watch out – there are idiots on the road!” So true, especially when you are cruising along happily and suddenly an energetic driver cuts from your left, and zooms across to take a cheeky right, millimetres in front of you! And to add insult to injury, he has the gall to flip the finger at you as well! Or the woman who puts one tentative foot out to cross the road just as the traffic gets going, causing folks to swerve violently. No wonder my aunt says all her prayers in the car!
Most rule breakers are educated, canny, and oh-so-well behaved when they drive anywhere abroad. They stick to their lanes, avoid honking and wait for pedestrians to cross the road patiently. However, the moment they drive in India, a little imp forces them to run berserk, skittering around like cats on a hot tin roof.
Maybe the only time drivers do slow down is when they are forced to do so! Like when a VIP makes an appearance, causing a galaxy of cops to stand around, mobiles in hand, waiting for a sighting in the horizon which causes them to stand to attention, while a mighty traffic jam forms around, growing larger every restive minute.
And to end, a grandfather would take his young granddaughter driving every Sunday in order to bond with her. Once he fell ill, and his wife opted to take the little girl out. When they got back, the grandfather asked the little one how she had enjoyed her drive. Prompt came the reply, “It was fun, and guess what! We didn’t see a single ‘Idiot’, ‘Moron’ or ‘Blind Fool’ on the way today!”

Deepti Menon