lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, April 23, 2007

Excuse me

If you accompany me on my shopping trips to Lake Market, you will notice something. The vendors all call out (yeah, I know vendors call out to all and sundry) and I respond to each and every one of them.

Namaste didi, says a fruit vendor, adding that the grapes are sweet today, rather. Namaste bhaiya, I say, as I walk past his stall. Maa, dim laagbey, asks my egg-waali. Arre, gato kalyee nilam naa, I say. Ki hollo, didi, calls out another and I smile a greeting, suppressing the usual pun that strikes me. Aayiyegaa, didi, says another; jee, I reply.

I was talking about this with that young lady, Rimi, and she remarked that like her, I suffer from terminal politeness. But it is one thing to walk past vendors crying their wares on pavement stalls, in other markets. In Lake Market, where I shop for groceries, it is different.

You see, if you have been doing your grocery shopping in the same market for seventeen years, they all know you, and you know them too; from the chap who sells you tender maize in season to the chap you exchange greetings with but never buy a thing from. You might not patronise them every time you are out on a shopping trip, but you do meet them, so you greet them.

It takes no time and costs nothing to be polite.

This basic courtesy thing starts when I step out of my building actually, with the security guard. Namaste, memsaab, he says as he holds the gate open for me. I could sweep past him, not acknowledge his greeting, of course, like some of my neighbours do. But I always say, namaste, bhaiya.

There are the cabbies too, and doormen and salespeople. And waiters. I am always taken aback when persons who will excuse themselves with elaborate politeness to answer calls when in company look through waiters.

It is appalling to see people being dismissed as wallpaper. Yes, they are doing their jobs, yes, we are paying them for it, but they are persons, with histories, characters and quirks thereof, and more. And what sort of manners are those that are reserved only for peers?

If we smile an apology before taking a call when with others, if we remember to say please and thank you and excuse me, we are, in courtesy stakes, practically perfect, Emily Post's darlings. But are we her darlings if we walk past without acknowledging somebody we know by sight, or pass everyday? When we fail to thank the doorman? Perhaps, but I can live on credit and goodwill for at least a month, shopping in Lake Market, simply because I acknowledge people.

A couple of months ago, I went to the restaurant we used to frequent on the first Saturday of every month. The last time I was there for lunch was three years ago, when I treated a toy boy to lunch. They greeted me with open arms. Hello ma'am, how nice to see you, you have been neglecting us, so on and so forth they gushed. I said I was only ordering take away, nevertheless they ushered me to 'my' table, urged a beer on me as I waited, and the maitre d' admonished a new lad that ma'am prefers roasted papad, not peanuts.

If you argue that this is because I am an old and valued customer, how do you explain the fact that the maitre d' of a restaurant in Hyderabad asked me if I wanted my usual table, the third time I went there? Oh, perhaps it is because I tip well.

I was going to rant further on this, but there is wonderful news to share. Ram and his team have won huge funding of $100000 in Duke University's CURE competition, for their work in developing an inexpensive and portable colposcope. This will benefit millions of women in remote areas and underdeveloped countries. You have done us proud, Ram. Congratulations!



Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

Thanks, Mrs. M .. Nice post, btw .. "It takes no time and costs nothing to be polite." ... Agreed, wholeheartedly. Yet, I am often at the forefront of the millions who are guilty ...

1:18 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

It's not got much to do with tipping well, as you well know, Lali. Several people tip generously because it's expected of them, or because they're in company. It is, like I said, the way you treat people. As you rightly point out, what sort of manners are those that are reserved only for peers?

However, as I think I mentioned in passing once (or didn't I?), sometimes being polite is taken as an incentive to press male affection on me. Collateral damage, eh? ;-)

1:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I beg your pardon.

But young Rimi's comment would provoke you to citing Nanny Ogg, right?

tum din ko agar raat kaho raat kahenge, you know that.

Secret admirer

10:59 pm  
Blogger Nilu said...

This has to be your worst, Lali.

I am tempted to say something like 'kettalum men makkal, men makkale'. But I won't.

11:31 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- In Telugu, there is a proverb, nOru manchidi ayitE ooru manchidi avutundi. And I suspect you are exaggerating. :-)

Rimi- You did mention it, that some people mistake politeness for spinelessness or worse, unspoken invitation to take liberties. Collateral damage, indeed.

Anon- There's a thought. Get a name.

Nilu- But you have. Boo hoo.

1:44 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

Sorry to say, but in this godforsaken city politeness DOESN'T pay. It's infested with uncivil australopithecuses. Since I can't beat them, I got to be one of them. BAAAH. But you know what I really am, don't you, Love?

3:16 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Priya- There is a Zen koan about one hand clapping. Are you real when you are alone?

10:47 pm  
Anonymous PTC said...

A toy-boy? How mean!

9:38 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

PTC- Well, he was a hunk and eye-candy material, no? Young, no? Ergo. But he is a dear friend actually, between you and me and the doorpost.

10:31 pm  

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