Fading Smiles, Lost Hellos


Have you too noticed something lately, or is it just me? For boy, then I should be worried. You know, I might actually be a victim of some involuntary and purposeless over-thinking. And if that is really so, it’ll be prudent, at this stage, to rephrase the entire thing (good for me, the cat is as yet fast asleep in the proverbial bag) and sell this piece under the garb of a thoughtful insight by a keen observer or maybe, a concerned voicing of a disquieting spectacle by a work-in-progress-sociologist.

Taking a leap of faith in believing that the first few drag and senseless lines didn’t put you off and that- out of the sheer goodwill that my limited audience ‘still’ bestows in my mindless musings, I take it that you (at least some) are still with me, and so cutting the banter short, I’ll get right on with my Shatabdi of perturbing thoughts.

Tell me, something, now, will you? Why are people becoming increasingly un-peoplelike, nowadays, especially here in the NCR? I had a ninety-minute long ordeal today in some of the popular modes of public transport across D-G, and bam, I couldn’t be sorrier for the city that I am compelled to call my home.

For those of the lucky few who are not familiar with this epithet (which is basically my 10 seconds ago creation- no claps please!), I’m referring to the Delhi-Gurgaon’ish unwelcoming and cold way of life, which has wintered a little too soon.

No, I am not implying sexual defilement or other criminal tendencies that are nowhere seen to be waning anytime soon- responsible for crowding up women into tight groups, women-only coaches, pink autos, and the pepper-spray paraphernalia, but something rather, ‘elementary’ to being human.

Take a cue.

Have you ever shared an auto-rickshaw with the kind of people who, owing to their obvious choice of self-involvement, forced you into pretending to be invisible for the twenty odd minutes until your destination arrived? Or, say another set of people, who despite boarding the same metro, from the same station, and in fact, coming from and heading to the same place/station, enter through the other side of the compartment just so that they don’t have to pretend to smile on seeing a familiar face, and lose that precious hello, which they have been saving for someone more important.

Now, how hard can it be? Just smile and move on, silly. But no, some people, whom I am obliged to accompany in my auto/metro rides from this series of lectures of late, prefer to rather unblinkingly look at me until the entire place is reverberating with the socially awkward vibes, and puzzle me into guessing how was I supposed to respond to that ‘thing’, than offer any explicit expression from their end, making my complicated life, somewhat less complicated.

That spirited smile conveying a hint of recognition on crossing a known from a distance, that natural nod of showing interest as a genuine party to the conversation, or even that slight nod with half a smile to acknowledge familiarity with the ‘other’. You barely see them anymore. It is lost. I’m telling you. Stolen. Hijacked. Kidnapped.

While the invention of the ear chords has made this as effortlessly possible as ever, where you can just zone out of whatever situation you are in; someone really needs to remind these people that hey, you can’t hear us all right, but it isn’t a cloak of invisibility that Dumbledore sent you for Christmas, and that we can still look at those eyes piercing right through us. And now with Delhi reeling under a ‘heath emergency’ and metros being full of masked faces (pun intended), it couldn’t be any easier to intimidate the hell out of some innocent onlookers.

Now, I’m probably being old school in taking such small things as given, and thus expressing my shock at the reality not meeting my expectations, but I wonder- if this is the present, how long have I been on snooze to have missed this major transition. You know, there is a term in International Relations, called the No First Use policy, whereby a nation implies that while it won’t attack the other (with nuke weapons), but given a provocation, it will upfront defend itself, come what may.

Sadly, women, my generation, (of course, a chunk) seem to have taken this far too seriously. I am sure, the description above didn’t much look like a woman-to-woman thing, but it is actually so. And worse. So they won’t smile, or say hello unless you don’t initiate it, and then get offended and look at you like sworn enemies every next time you happen to cross them. And if you actually passed on a smile at your own behest, some would be like, umm, wierdo, move past!

But had it been one amongst that wave of thousands of women you see in the metro, not caring to remember their faces, it would have been normal, right? But unfortunately, the ones I am referring to are the ones you have to see every day, making it a regular affair.

And yet, what is most disconcerting, is the essentially gendered nature of this entire situation.

You know, we women, will gang up, if a man were to do something as even breathe in front of us, but internally we are so divided. To other men (the non-breathing kinds :P), we will talk nicely, but no, another woman won’t even get as much as an upon sneezing-‘God Bless You’. This lack of internal solidarity between non best-friend’ish women of the same age is beginning to take its toll on me.

On the other hand, men seem surprisingly good at preventing such socially awkward moments to peak. Not all, sure (not a huge fan, anyway), but I can think of two recent examples to support my saying this.

The last time, I probably found myself in such a ‘potentially’ awkward situation with a guy was some months back, wherein within the first twenty minutes of that birthday lunch with this pre-historic friend, that made me want to spook his soul out for a front row exhibition of his intimidating demeanour, but post those initial minutes, I remember nothing but having a pleasant time over some not very pleasant food that day. I’m sure he’d have had the tact to save the situation, without me knowing. Now, had my host been a woman that day (especially the ones with whom I am ‘hanging out’ (of the auto) lately), I am sure it wouldn’t have been only that godforsaken panini to be blamed for my ruined mood.

Similarly, another time with another guy, who obviously knocked my head out courtesy his overtly narcissistic banter, which was more nerve-wracking than the previous one’s stony silence, yet, despite all that, he too deserves to be credited a great deal to manoeuvre the conversation swiftly from the one-dimensional self-involved monologue (remember my auto pals) to a more inclusive and enjoyable dialogue, over a rather nice grilled cheese sandwich and Ferrero Rocher shake.

Skip the details man, the take away point being, these aren’t even (especially one of them) the most sociable people I know, but if they can do it, women, why can’t you? Umm, sorry- Us.

Till then, all I am left to do myself is, admire the fluorescent orange sneakers of the dude riding his cycle next to my auto (for whom I am not invisible), and in my defence in the metro, take out the most boring magazine and read, because hey, at least she shouldn’t feel neglected- lying this entire week shut in my claustrophobic bag, as I have been feeling on my way home for the past three days.





2 thoughts on “Fading Smiles, Lost Hellos

  1. hello Anusha…. reading this article was an uphill task(my poor vocabulary) , but in the end worth it.
    Your “no first use policy” analogy was the high point….. excellent.
    Your expectations are genuine and child like pure innocent (but adulterated with gender)….. be open minded towards men (both the breathing & non breathing types)….at least a progressive person like you shouldn’t consciously gang up with non best-friend’ish women.
    Also, be bold and smile always….. i believe its contagious.

    1. Thanks, Raja! The breathing and non-breathing men have been used just as a literary device to facilitate comparison with women, so don’t worry, I am totally open-minded to both. I’ll remember to smile always! Thanks 😀

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