Can the citizens of Delhi ever brush up their manners, wonders the author, lamenting the tell-tale depravity in their behaviour

Lucknow’s politeness and sophistication (nazakat) is proverbial, with the “pehle aap” (you first) concept taken to such extremes that once a friend even missed a train because of it, not to talk of the nawab sahib’s wife who covered her head with a frying pan when a visitor suddenly entered the kitchen and the begum was perturbed that she would look ridiculous with her head uncovered.

But even the much maligned culture of Delhi was not as devastated as it is now. That actually happened after the partition of 1947, when the Capital lost its moorings. The lingering heritage was what brought Josh Malihabadi back to Delhi twice as he wanted to “clear his ears” of the “hellish language” (Dozakh ki zaban) spoken in some parts of Pakistan. If he were to resurrect himself now, he would find the quintessential Dilliwallah almost extinct, save in parts of the Walled City where the old mores still survive.

The Augustan Age poet’s admonition “ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey/where wealth accumulates and men decay” seems to find an echo in Home Minister Chidambaram and Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit’s advice to Delhi’ites to brush up their manners before the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Uncle and aunty!

What a strange state of affairs in a city where nearly everybody addresses the elders as “uncle and “aunty”! With such general courtesy, who would say that Delhi has lost its manners? The truth is that “uncle and “aunty” are mere euphemisms for all and sundry, as the young lot cares two hoots for them. In the olden days even equals called each other “sahib”.

The collective affix was “sahiban and the British too picked up the habit. It is interesting to note that old Delhi dwellers have not bid good by to proper etiquette, with words like “aap” and “janab” still being used even for strangers. Surprisingly enough, “kunjars” (those in menial profession) too do not lack in manners there with Sahibbahadur ever on their lips for customers.

In the so-called modernised areas of New Delhi, the young tend to be rude and crude both in their talk and behaviour, unmindful of even the presence of elders. Road rage is a sign of it. If you admonish a boy riding a bike recklessly he will answer you rudely. They think a lot of themselves as their parents make a fuss over them compared to the times when “spare the rod, and spoil the child” was a much-touted motto. And if one misbehaved, one was told that one had been dragged up and not brought up.

As for girls from abroad, the belief among the youth is that “they are easy meat”. Should then one wonder that molestation and rape have become so common? “Khilao sone ka niwala /Dekho sher ki nazar se” no longer applies. Feed well but keep a stern eye is all but forgotten by parents. Pampering of children, say psychologists, is the root cause of bad manners, as affluence has bred insolence and rudeness.

One remembers that 50 years ago even if a passing stranger complained of misbehaviour, the kid got a tight slap from the parent. Now the parent is prepared to fight on behalf of the child as both seem to have a chip on the shoulder. That sort of mentality has to change if Delhi is to become a city of good manners, not only for the Commonwealth Games but for all times.

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