One of the things that I observed while I was abroad was that total strangers smile and greet each other. And I remember how nice it made me feel. I know, it is a common gesture to say “Hi. How are you doing?”, but along with a smile, it makes a big difference in your day. When I had left Indian shores, I had made a conscious decision to be a lot more friendly than usual. I am one of those naturally restrained people, and I never make the first move at being friendly. It is not that I am snobbish, neither is it that I dont like people. I love meeting people; it just that I have never made a conscious effort to well..be nice.
This time I was determined to be more open. I was grininng at anybody and everybody. The first day it felt weird, but afterwards it seemed so natural to smile. Of course it helped that most people responded. And I felt great.It was as if I had rid myself of a cloak of restraint, and I was free to converse with anybody.I met people from different walks of life and I had a great time talking with all of them.
Back here, I coudnt help but notice that we dont smile as much. Neither are we friendly. I was discussing this with my roomies and it turned out to be a major argument. I was making excuses such as..We are an underdeveloped country with a lot of problems, and that we dont have much to smile about. But is that really an excuse? One of my roomies was talking about how Indians jump queues at department stores, break traffic rules all the time, rush into trains clambering over each other without any concern for life.
I wondered if it was because we have a scarcity of everything, that we have got into the habit of rushing and grabbing stuff. Somewhere down in this mad rush, maybe we have forgotten about being civil to each other.
My roomies said that it was not really an excuse. And maybe it is not. I get out of home, and I find the watchman sulking. Everyday I get into a bus with a grumpy conductor who makes it looks as I have committed a crime by just stepping into the bus. Most days I have to fight with the auto rickshaw driver because he thinks he can charge me extra because I stay I km away from Koramanagala. Walk along Brigades and I find people jostling each other – and nobody says sorry when they have stepped on your toe. If I dont have change at Nilgiris, they ask me to come back and turn to the next customer without an apologetic glance. What is wrong with us? I mean arent we supposed to have the best culture in the world. People say Indians are so friendly – so why cant I see it? I suppose this is kind of like an urban phenomenon and I guess it is better in small towns. I know it is a lot better in Kerala. Get into an auto in Cochin and they will ask you where you are coming from, what do you do and stuff like that. Makes you feel you are coming home.
One of my roomies said that the basic reason for this is lack of respect for each other as humans. My other roomie said that it was because Indians have an attitude where they dont think that being rude is disrepectful. I thought that it was because in our rush for a propserous life we have forgotten about the small things that make life better. I guess the first factors also have had an impact.
But it is time we started being more open. Being nice doesnt take much effort, and it makes a tremendous impact. I know that I felt so much less lonely and so much more comfortable in a foreign country because people were nice. Oh they didnt do much – just smiled a lot, made way for me in the queue when I was just buying one two-dollar purchase, took me around when I was lost, showed a lot of concern when my tickets were messed up. Isnt it time my countrymen did the same?