Sunday, April 10, 2011

Troubled waters

If you are Indian, your troubles can never be smaller than your friend’s and neighbour’s. There is a keen contest amongst us, of the grand subcontinent, to be the sadder, the greater stricken, the one who throbs more.

Have you ever attempted telling a friend that your head aches? His will promptly hurt a nerve more. Try relating to a colleague how you got pulled up for a traffic ticket and you will suddenly find yourself in conversation with the largest contributor to the traffic department coffers. Woe betide you, should you so much as breathe a word about a houseful of guests at home; your hitherto sympathetic listener will promptly be revealed to be harbouring one more. Voice an ailment to a family member only if you enjoy watching them pucker their lips in pain as they launch into an excruciating checklist of ills that plague them.

We take morbid narration to a whole new level while holding forth on episodes of purges, acidity, migraines, and that omnipotent backache. We are hurting, paining, aching and complaining all the time and mostly in a spirit of camaraderie and siblinghood. Let no acquaintance, brother, neighbour, colleague of ours feel they are down and out by themselves, we are right there besides them, a clear rung lower.

What to do, as they say, we are like that only.

Jai ho !
It is in our culture. Our antique psyche. We are too well bred and gracious to permit a comrade to feel low. We lighten his load by appearing to carry a heavier burden. His troubles suddenly begin to seem smaller by comparison. It’s a wonderful kink in our cultural conscience, this concern for the other and an associated willingness to whinge and whine some more. Imagine the other all blue over a lost piece of baggage. You whip out your tale of how you nearly lost the baby on one trip. Here is a person crying over having missed his train and you have a narration ready, complete with lost passport and tenure in prison. He is obviously relieved.

We have been brought up to shower compassion publicly. This land, dotted with temples, gurudwaras and churches keeps us tuned and humming for instant empathy, plus one. We melt in the face of any mention of personal loss or unease. Just as we cannot drive past a temple or a church without that awkward dip, we cannot stand to see anyone we know in greater pain than we are in.

Is it fellow feeling or a pure and simple defence mechanism? Perhaps nature has wired us so that we may ensure the strobe light stays focused on us.

Be that as it may, the axe I am looking to grind however, is with that vague sense of malaise that infects Indian homes and workplaces. Hard to pin and very often used as a way of eluding responsibility for themselves and the world around, this is a quick sand of the most paralyzing and debilitating kind. It is the “not feeling well” brigade. There is a ladies meeting to attend, one is suddenly not well. An unexpected and annoying working Saturday, it is cause to promptly go under the weather. If a boring social event is coming up for attendance, can a viral attack be far behind? I know. I sound so un-Indian!

This newest Forbes survey being touted everywhere has really missed the point. How can India be one of the most unfriendly places for expats? Could they have misunderstood and misinterpreted our propensity for tribulations? Surely we are the world’s most understanding and responsive people, considering how we match the distressed every step of the way.

There is only one Indian I know of who is anything but; my grandfather Sardar Dalip Singh Sangha; a sturdy, Pakistan émigré, Jat Sikh from Moga.

He did not possess one sympathetic stapes in his body.

His philosophy: one had no business so much as exhaling, unless one had been shot in the spleen!

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