Usually, we Indians don't observe etiquettes. The two habits which I see the most irksome are using saliva to turn the leaves of a book or to count currency and the intrusion of a third person when two people are talking. The most nauseating habit is spitting on the walls and in the corners of public buildings. When I was a JNU student, at the beginning I was virtually stunned on seeing students spit in the corners of the lift of the five-storeyed library. They simply spat inside the lift as if they were on an open ground! You can look at the wall corners of the staircases in any of the hostels on the campus only if you are sure that the dirty sight won't make you vomit, because you can see layers of spit and dirt there.
In JNU, everybody will have to photocopy some books and journals completely. The persons who operate the photostat machines will use their tongue lavishly to turn the leaves and count the copied pages. How many times have I told them to use a note-count to do it! But they never change their unhygienic way of turning the leaves. (In the periodicals section of the library, you can see almost everybody turning the pages using saliva. The bottom righthand corner of all newspapers and journals is dampened and dirtied! When everybody practises this unhygienic way of turning pages, they are putting the germs in the saliva of somebody else on their own tongue.)
When I was selected for a clerical post in state government service, I sat before the head of the office and handed over my appointment order along with copies of documents. To my astonishment, the first thing the officer did was to touch his tongue to turn the papers. In which category should this unhygienic practice be included — lack of etiquette or manners or the lack of consciousness of basic hygiene?
(My elder daughter never touched her tongue to turn the pages of her comic books until she went to a kindergarten. She learnt it from her teachers. And when I told her not to repeat the practice, she asked me why her teachers did so if it was a dirty habit.)
In the hands of the already not-so-etiquette-sensitive Indians, the mobile phone has become a gadget which breaks every rule of public manners. The other day a person came to our gram panchayat office to know the details of marriage registration. As I am the section clerk, he was directed to me. “Sir,” he asked, “What are the documents needed for marriage registration and is there a time limit for registration?”
“The normal registration,” I began, “should be done within 45 days of the marriage, and the necessary documents are…” Suddenly another one came forth and asked, “Sir, I lost my marriage certificate. How can I have a duplicate?” I told him to wait, and turning to the first one started anew, “The necessary documents are the following: 1) attested copies of the documents to prove the date of birth of the cou…” I could not complete the word ‘couple' before an old Tamil hit of A. R. Rahman ( Ottakathe Kattikko) started on his mobile. Abruptly he attended the call and I apologetically turned towards the intruder and told him what he should do to obtain a duplicate marriage certificate. The person who wanted to know the details of marriage registration was still engaged in phone talk. The moment I turned to my file, his mobile-talk ceased and he approached me. I started again putting aside the file, “Attested copies….” But his mobile again started singing “ Ottakathe Kattikko…”
I turned to my work and forgot about him. After some time, he appeared before me again. This time also I could not proceed beyond the attested copies of the documents. When he asked me again, I told him to switch off his mobile, if he wanted to register his marriage.
Another day, I was coming home from office by bus. Suddenly, a Hindi song ( Tipp tipp barsa paani...) emanated from the pocket of the person who sat beside me. He didn't attend the call at first. And “ tip tip barsa…” started again. This time he attended and I could not but overhear him saying without any qualm that he was speaking from Coimbatore! Coimbatore was more than 70 km away.
Recently, I went to a TIN facilitation centre seeking to know how to apply for a PAN card. When I entered the office, the man inside was already engaged in a conversation on his mobile. I waited and when his conversation was over, asked him what I should do. But even before he could hear my question, I heard “ Why this kolaveri kolaveri di…” It was his ring tone. Again, I waited. The conversation seemed endless. And I presumed that it was with a girl he was talking, because the voice was so hushed that I even doubted whether he was talking or not. Often and again, he was glancing at me as if I was a damned criminal. I kept my distance. After the more than a 15-minute long tête-à-tête, he looked at me in a friendly manner and I approached him, but before I went near him, again he had his “ kolaveri.”
Another 15 minutes. This time I decided to ask for his mobile number. It would be better to talk to him on the phone than wait there to ask my questions directly, I thought.
He was dictating the number and I was noting it down on my mobile, when suddenly my mobile intruded with “ Mukunda, Mukundaa, Krishna…” (It is my ring tone). I told him to wait. Of course, the mobile has made me too mannersless or an etiquette violator! Everybody is a slave to his own gadgets.
(The writer's email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org)