Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Good Manners a Western Thing?

Nothing much to write about. Nothing significant happened, that's why. But, yes there's something, now that I think about it. It happened as I was walking towards Victoria Terminus on the way back from work. I prefer to walk rather than catch a cab. I love to walk in the city, roads that are familiar, full of the sights of my youth.

A youth touched my hand while walking. I don't like to be touched in public. So I turned and glared at him. But he walked past as if nothing happened. I was appalled at the lack of manners. But what manners? Isn't manners a western invention? Is there manners here? A neighbour insulted me when I told him that we had to discuss a common problem. (Ah, forget I ever mentioned it here.) I think he didn't have the guts to apologise. In train, similarly, if you touch anyone, even in their private forbidden parts, no need to be embarrassed or say sorry. Just pretend nothing happened. It has happened many times. Many, many times. What's our words for excuse me, sorry?

Kshama chahata hoon. (such a long sentence).

Maaf karo (short but still unwieldy)

Dayavayi kshamikula (Malayalam for have patience, too long)

Ergo, people are excessively flattering or vilely abusive. Look at the internet and you can see the best educated and best behaved people talking filth. 

Yes, manners is a western invention. It isn't Indian at all. But querulousness is an Indian invention. So suppose this is the sceneario of what happens to us ordinary folks living in ordinary city in India when something untoward happens. Suppose I touch someone unknowingly and apologise. The following is what would happen. Instead of a smile and an acknowledgement, here's what I can expect:

Are you blind?

Have you no shame?

I will see you?

I will teach you a lesson?

Who are you to apologise? Big man? A westerner, a brown sahib? A firang?

You think you are someone big, eh? Wait till I show you.

All threats and insults. Yes, we are quite good at threats and insults. They come very easy to us. As if nothing matters except to smother the other person with insults, degrade him, make him bite the dust, let him never look up straight again. 

That brings me to this conclusion. Maybe it's a sweeping generalisation. Maybe I am biased. Yes, apparently, good manners is a western thing. Not in our culture. We are embarrassed when we have to apologise or say sorry.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.


Singh Ratikanta said...

practical observation n nice presentation sir.

John P Matthew said...

Ratikanta, thanks for your comment.