My God, you have lost weight. Do you have sugar? Have you checked your cholesterol?” The first words of greeting! And this from a person who is both vertically and horizontally challenged, and someone who has not seen me in the last 10 years. Biting back a nasty retort, but seething, I assure him that his prognosis is incorrect. Then the bright side of the whole thing hits me. If this person can remember nuances of my physical attributes 10 years down the line, then I must have made a tremendous impression. Maybe I do have a dazzling personality!
And then there is the exercise freak, who scoffs at your sweat routine. “That’s nothing,” he laughs. “You must do what I do, walk at least 3km a day.” If it is his exercise routine that has mutated him to his present shape, then I’d rather be a couch potato. And the loud mouth who points at your face and says “Good God! You have pimples.” Yes you @xz*#$ punk. I know. I do have something called mirrors in my house.
Why do we Indians have to be so obnoxious, so intensely personal? Is it because of insecurity or inadequacy, feelings so strong that on meeting someone there is this insatiable urge to put the person on the defensive? Or is there an underlying latent mean streak in us that resents someone different from us? The recipient is expected to accept the offensive remarks with equanimity. If the recipient retorts, it becomes a conflict zone. You can give, but not take.
Compare this with what a young child, whom I had last met a couple of years ago, said. “Uncle, you look the same.” The spontaneity of the young innocent mind is so refreshing when compared to the informed, mature mind.
The British greet each other by denouncing the weather, a topic they have copyrighted. While in parts of California greeting begins and ends with “YO”, it’s “Hi Jack” in South Africa and so on. We have fine-tuned the Right to Freedom of Speech to mean that making offensive and personal comments, if not in the greeting then certainly during the course of the ensuing conversation, is a birthright and etiquette. On a recent visit to my mother, I was enjoying a cup of coffee and discussing certain family matters with her. In pops a distant relative, a person I have not seen in 15 years. On seeing me she gasps and says “My God, you have lost a lot of weight.” Before she could continue her diagnostic diatribe, my mother, a sprightly 84-year-old, intervened and said, “Who, him? He looks the same. You go get your eyesight tested.” The matter ended there because when people from that generation put people in their place, they stay put.
We have a unique form of greeting, the folded hands or namaste, a gesture so sublime in that it conveys not merely a greeting but embodies humility, respect and reverence. We pray to God using the same gesture. Maybe it’s time that we adopted this and used folded hands when greeting others rather than the mouth.