Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The unwilling indian smile

She blinked. Hastily looked down. Looked up. And then stared back at him, full in the face with one of her ‘ you-lousy-piece-of-scum ’ looks. The moment (and the offender) passed. Her honour sufficiently salvaged, she went back to scrutinizing Lucknowi Chikan suits strung up against greasy glass panes.

‘What was that about?’ I decided to venture, after considerable mental ruminations about the wisdom involved in bringing it up, when I knew it all anyway.

‘Hmmm .. ?’ (distractedly)

‘What was that about’

‘What was what?’

That. Back there. What was that about? You looked like you wished you could get your hands on a shotgun.’

‘Pink is a really nice colour, Nayan. I don’t know why you have these silly mind blocks against it. You should get some more pastel shades ; suits your skin much better. You’re not exactly fair, you know …’

‘Ma. Are you ignoring me?’

‘ I don’t know what you’re talking about, Nayan. Now. Don’t you think the pista green piece is a little too green?’

‘Oh, great …’

‘A rather radical green, no …? ’

‘MA!!’ I hollered finally.

‘What, Nayan?! What has gotten into you ??!’

‘Why did you scowl at him like that? Do you know him?’


‘That man back there. You scowled at him like he had his head screwed on the wrong way.’

‘Hmmpf. Well, I’m sure he did. Didn’t you see what he did?’

Upon professing complete ignorance, she stared disapprovingly – ‘You didn’t see it? You’re always so distracted – I’m sure everyone else did.’

‘Wellll … What. Was. It.??? What did he do?’

‘HE SMILED AT ME !!’ she announced definitely and animatedly, eyes wide.

Aha. Just as I suspected. How dare the impudent fellow smile at her?

‘I mean, is there absolutely no sense of propriety people have today? What decent man smiles at women he doesn’t know? On the street, that too … And not only that, but at a married woman! Hmpfhh ! I suppose he thought I’d smile back!!”

‘Haha. Probably,’ I quipped ‘Anyway no big deal, I mean it’s just … ‘

(Of course I should never have even ventured there ..)

She stopped, looked at me, fixed me with a gaze filled with a mixture of pity as well as some sort of supreme intellectual superiority.

‘NO. BIG. DEAL. ? Just great, Nayan. You go right ahead with your new-age liberation, anti-everything conventional nonsense. You with your avante-garde likes, junkie clothes and how many times have I told you to at least comb that hair?! And yes, let's not forget all your so called interlecchuallll american friends .."

‘Hey! why are you always only looking to bring my friends into every …’

‘… decent, well-brought up men and women don’t smile at random people on the streets. Not in this country  at least, since it seems you need reminding. People go about their own business like they should. Everyone knows that! But of course, since we like to trash everything conventional, let’s trash this as well...’

‘Amma, I’m not trashing anything, I’m just …’

‘…downright eveteasing, I say!!’ she cried, quite outraged.

‘WHATTTT??!!! Ma, you saw the guy – he was just smiling, no dirty leering or anything even remotely suggestive.'

‘… strangers! smiling …crazy… strangers…harassment …’ she mumbled on.

Horror of horrors indeed. Where is the planet headed? Move over global warming, smiling street strangers are here.

It's true. Indians hate smiling. It’s like we have this innate fear of breaking into a smile spontaneously. And worse, catching another person’s eye while doing it. Because that of course, would make us either -

(a) promiscuous and slutty, if female

(b) vulgar and indecent, with very bad upbringing in our formative years if male, OR

(c) mentally retarded (in which case we might just be forgiven. But I wouldn't count on it.)

Conversely, if one is brave enough to make a feeble attempt at smiling at the person sitting next to her on the bus, she’s faced with either a distinctly suspicious frown or a look feigning complete ignorance of what just happened.

It’s hillarious actually. Why isn’t anybody smiling?? ;)

1 comment:

Jac said...

I am
...and I am half Indian too.

Sorry, I am late, I am just out of my hiatus.