The reverse culture shocks….
…..when I went home recently after a gap of 3+ years did not involve the burgeoning number of new shopping malls, or the new fly-overs, or the sudden new-fangled fad for Mehendi (Gariahata crossing was chock-full of Mehendi-wallahs adorning nubile arms), or even the (as Dipanjan had warned) inflated value of the rupee (although I did pause for a brief moment when I heard the cost of phuchkas, one rupee now buys less a phuchka!).
But I did a double-take when I saw two teen-aged guys blithely walking with their arms around each other!
Took me a second to remind myself it was all quite normal: Boys (and some girls) of all ages from kindergarten to college-bound, walking with arms around each other, or holding hands. Did not have any additional meaning. [Not that there is anything wrong with people of same gender having mutual affections, its just that my automatic thought for the first few seconds was how India had progressed socially to be accepting such a behavior 🙂 ].
And there it was – the things that hadn’t really changed in Kolkata, the mundane managing to catch me off-guard. Amidst the mental preparations for the various transformations you hear about in India, I had forgotten how much living away had changed me.
Among the other such experiences, which used to part of my daily life, but seems strange now:
- The lack of personal space; not that I really expect it in an overcrowded country, but more than once I came across this irritating habit of the person behind me in a queue edging as close as possible (hoping no doubt that the extra few inches gained would allow him to get his job done mighty sooner).
- The absolute and unabashed manner in which people delve into your personal lives, especially in regards to question of employment, salary and importantly, the issue of having kids (I am told that there are a few well meaning people – who aren’t even relatives or close friends – in Kolkata who are losing nights of sleep over the fact we haven’t had kids yet).
- The fact that simply standing quietly in front of the butcher’s, fish-monger’s or vegetable-vendor’s, waiting for your turn to be called by the shopkeeper gets you nowhere. The trick is to push in and announce what you need – you will be served. But no one’s going to flash a smile and ask what you want.
- The fact that duties of a good host involve force feeding people till they are sick. In most cases, I was actually the victim; but then there were couple of instances when I would ask guests if they wanted some extra food or sweets and when they say no, I would not ask a second time. Took a while to remember that perhaps they indeed wanted more food but were being polite; I was supposed to continue insisting a bit!
Sigh ! Just ten years away from the motherland and I am – as some of the relatives would not fail to point out disapprovingly – turning into a saheb !