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     Volume 6 Issue 27 | July 13, 2007 |

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The Rules of the Game

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Sometimes I wonder whether Bangalis live on another planet. What other reason could there be for the obvious lack of common decency that we encounter daily? There are, of course, the more obvious examples, such as the way people drive their cars, nearly ramming into each other just to get a two second head start which will be inevitably delayed at the next traffic light; or even the more disgusting habits, such as people blowing their noses on their hands and then touching others, or spitting on the streets dangerously close to another person's sandaled feet. No, although these occurrences are plentiful, there are deeper and darker indications that our society, no matter how high and mighty the class in question, lack that certain je ne sais quoi.

It's ironic that in a society where an almost Victorian sense of propriety is so coveted, there are still many people who go out of their way to be interfering to the point of appearing obnoxious. For example, how many times have you been to a wedding where a cluster of people are openly discussing the groom's salary? And spare me the excuse that all these meddlers are just discussing this particular (very personal) issue for the sake of the bride's well being. Somehow I find it hard to believe that these so-called well-wishers really care.

How about that annoying aunty who always greets you by telling you how fat or thin you have become? Mind you, she is as fat as a blimp, but insists on criticising your figure. Doesn't she realise that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones? And as a friend of mine rightly surmised you can never win. If you are healthy, then you are too fat and if you have lost weight (usually because everyone has been calling you fat) then you are too thin. The sad thing is that there is so much malice attached to the running commentary about a girl's figure. It's a wonder that we don't have a population full of bulimics and anorexics.

Then there are those people who have no limits to their curiosity -- the ones who ask you all sorts of embarrassing questions such as when you are planning on having a child (if you are recently married), how much that particular piece of jewellery cost and where you got it from (because they want to make sure that what they are wearing is more expensive than yours), and my personal favourite, what your father does. The last question never ceases to annoy me. Perhaps because my parents made the mistake of bringing me up as an individual and therefore, never instilled in me the mentality that you are what your father does for a living. I still remember my first day in school in Bangladesh, when a teacher (not even a student) asked me what my father did for a living. Being the unaware child that I was, I said that I didn't know. From that moment on, the teacher decided to ignore me. If I had known that the answer to this very pertinent question would make or break the rest of my years at school, I would have definitely remembered to bring my father's C.V. for the teacher to assess whether I was worth his time and effort.

I always wonder if these people actually realise how offensive they are being. Then again it is hard to judge. After all there is no rulebook on civility that people can read -- and even if there was, how would we measure politeness and common decency according to our specific societal norms and traditions? For all I know maybe I am the alien here who has no sense of decorum. It is possible. Maybe intrusiveness and the open exchange of mucus are all part of our culture. If it is, then just a handful of us are the odd ones out. Somehow, however, I find it very hard to believe.


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