We Indians, especially the Mallu lot have a predilection to snoop, stray and often intrude into another’s privacy; privacy of personal life, family, habits, professional activity and even his mundane routine. Some do it wantonly and some with manicured innocence. Though, I must admit that there have been in my experience a few civilsed exceptions to this.
It is in our temperament and tinctured social etiquette to ask a friend or an acquaintance who we meet on the street, not how he or she is this morning or exclaim a pleasant day, but where he or she is going to. This I’m afraid may sound innocuous and even unpretentious but to me intrusive and an avoidable one at that.
Even if we ignore such enquiries as trivia and forgettable, there are the elements, the wiggles that hold us on the way, even way lay us, ambush us and literally cross examine us. I loathe such kind.
Long ago in my teens, I guess I was in the first or second year in college- it was the period when exploratory journeys were made with the taboo and banned practices say like smoking. Though I have never been a regular smoker, I have also been provoked by the charm of cigarettes. So most of the smoking adventures where in the College Hostel, canteen or in alleys. Cinemas where insecure as one could not tell who among the public would snitch back to the folks at home. One day after college I bought a cigarette at the pan shop next to the bust stop, lit it and luxuriously pulled in a lungful of tobacco smoke when I noticed the middle-aged man who lived in my neighbourhood walking towards where I was and I sneaked behind the pan shop. But I was actually provoked when I learnt that this impertinent fellow saw me light the cigarette and even before I noticed him and was headed towards where I was. He headed straight to me throwing perverted glances at my hand which hid the cigarette in the palm rather instinctively. In reality my reaction was borne out of a little respect for a person who was quite older to me and known to me as well. He came to me and asked facetiously as if it was the sole question that he was seeking an answer for the whole of his life thus far.” Why are you standing here?” It was specious. I decided to confront him at his game. I gathered the strength and impassively looked at him, my annoyance got the better of me that I put the cigarette to my lips and pulled in a lungful and threw it out sideways. I do not remember well what he did after. He vanished and since that day he would cross the street whenever he has seen me approaching his way. Audacity of teen and rebellious though, I could not understand even from then why some people choose to be intrusive and ask things that are impertinent and are best left to the privacy of another. I would have honoured him had he ignored my standing there, walked past me unconcerned and then gone to my home and told folks that I had taken to smoking.
Besides the pleasure of seeing the discomfort of another, what ails many and make them ferret with their stinking noses is some have no subject matter or topic to discuss that they display impertinence.
At a recent social gathering where there were quite a few strangers’, I was introduced to some and I preferred to confine to exchange of pleasantries and handshakes. Some enquired where I lived and such innocuous questions. One fellow went further and in his sonorous voice asked me what I did for living and I told him I was retired from active work. He persisted. “That is alright, but what were you doing?”
“I was in business.” I said, smelling his inquisitiveness.
“That is strange I have not seen or known people retire from business.” He said rather pompously. I felt that like a question to which he demanded an answer. I could see some other people milling around.
“Well, now, you saw me! I guess that will make your evening.” I stated and moved on. Here the fellow was simply being inquisitive but I did not appreciate it much.
I have a distant relative who is an expat and he has been cooling his heels presumably assisted by the resources he may have saved during his working days. That must be one of the reasons why he directs his unspent energy, time and mind on matters that are not his. He collects tit bits from sources sauté it and diffuses around. That, I’m certain invigorates him and makes him appear sanguine. Once, at a wedding reception he with artistic pureness asked a person who was estranged from his wife why he did not bring along his spouse. The miserable person was constantly avoiding such social functions since the estrangement as he was uncomfortable when people made such enquiries and few of us had persuaded him to attend. He did not stop at that and continued ferreting. Where she was? Why she could not get leave from her office? Why she is living and working in another city? Why he would not bring the children? And how sad he felt that he could not see all of them at that function! It was chagrin. The outrageous part was the fellow was aware that something was amiss in the miserable person’s family.
Isn't it bare decency that people confine to pleasantries invoking the sunny day or the cool evening or even the warm day after the torrential rains than ask awkward questions to a stranger or someone who is not a close friend? Could we tell if the other is not awkward towards our, perhaps even innocent ask or something we presume is a mundane matter that is generally discussed? Shouldn't we pause to watch what topic the other is comfortable to discuss with us? Shouldn't we accept an iota of privacy as a person’s birth right and inalienable?
“Privacy is not something that I'm merely entitled to, it's an absolute prerequisite.” Someone said that.