Monday, July 24, 2006


A little incident occurred on my way home through London's streets last night. In the hurry to get past the signal, my cabbie lost control and rammed into a benign BMW that was patiently making its way through the endless sea of vehicles ahead. A moment of shock later, the black cab and the BMW moved to halt menacingly at a side street.

Ah! I said to myself, visualizing in graphic detail what was to happen next. Such a familiar scene from Mumbai's no-holds barred, traffic crammed roads. The wronged party would gnarl out of his vehicle with choicest abuses, limited, if at all, by a faint memory of civility, while the accused would continue to play defiant. After sufficient respite from flinging raw emotions at each other, they would get on into their vehicles and continue with the navigation, dwelling momentarily on the sore incident.

What happened next was in fact quite the opposite. Both men got out of their vehicles in a very matter of fact manner to survey damages. A few seconds later, I see cabbie wave his hand in apologetic manner, and BMW owner instantaneously wave back in forgiving gesture. All is well and forgotten; cabbie returns and continues nonchalant on the journey home, leaving me on a trail of bewildered thoughts.

Thoughts on how back home (and what follows is a huge generalization of “back home”, my beautiful country that is India, please pardon inferences to naivety of thought), a lifetime of struggle and paucity have served as a framework of reference for our interactions amongst ourselves. How, in that temporary moment when we are stretched, we can’t seem to find space in our hearts to forgive another’s folly, to give benefit of the doubt, to let go. How “not having” through various stages of growing up is manifested in the more mundane aspects of daily life…in the way we feel an urge to beat the queue to the bus, wait closest to the departure gate at the airport lounge - even when we see clearly that there is enough space to accommodate all. How we are unable to control an innate need to rush, scramble, despite knowing that we will perhaps have our turn. How we doubt.

And I wonder, is this not true of all our emotions? As we let go freely our outbursts of anger and displeasure, are we also not more free and unbridled in our love? Does our affection pass through filters of appropriateness or quantum? Do our reprimands seek license from defined relationships, or do they take authority from an inner love? At what point do these stop being defined by economic realities and start entering the realm of what we loosely define as our “culture” and how are the two interlinked? …I wonder....


Ps: On a different note, can't seem to get these beautiful lines of Kahlil Gibran out of my mind:

On "joy and sorrow":
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that hold your wine,
the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit,
the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”

On "love":
"Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart,"
but rather, I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course of love,
if it finds you worthy, directs your course"

On "beauty":
"And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears. "


Sissyphus said...

Nice post - but I don't think it's just a matter of a life of deprivation that's a causal factor here.

I think that in India, we have a very refined and elaborate notion of personal/familial etiquette, but very few norms or traditions of social etiquette. So Indian cities have ended up basically being large villages where people haven't evolved the social etiquette to deal with the overwhelming sense of anonymity. Contrast this with the West or even Japan, where social etiquette is very strictly communicated and enforced. I think the history/experience with urbanization also has a role to play.

Indian cities and in some sense urban society today is probably at the same evolutionary stage of a late 1800s early 1900s London or New York which were marked by a similar quasi-anarchic social structure...

inkognito said...

Sissy Pooh,

Welcome :) Your comment begins where my post ends.....and was going to be the topic of a separate blog, but you beat me to it :)

Interesting observation about the inability to deal with the overwhelming anonymity. The question I have is : What contributed to the establishment of social etiquette in the cities that you mentioned? Is the story replicable to the Indian context?

We talk of building great cities, I wonder what the way is to build great societies...

Sissyphus said...

i dunno how social etiquette evolved in these societies. But it's likely that their educational systems had a big role to play... it's a good q... too deep for me tho'! :)

hope u doing good!??

Faces among faces

Acrylic (with knives only) on canvas