Millennium Post

Where are we headed?

In an unprecedented turn of events, several human rights activists and intellectuals were raided across the country; five were arrested

A friend and I were discussing how politeness and common courtesy are lost on people nowadays. A 'thank you' is either ignored or perceived with suspicion. My friend thanked a colleague for doing a work-related chore, and pat came the reply, "Don't be so formal yaar". While listening to her, I also remembered a quote that was doing the rounds, "Being polite is so rare these days that it's often mistaken for flirting". Chuckling at the thought, I also realised that while people keep throwing "chivalry is dead" to our faces, it too actually boils down to lack of politeness. After all, it is our manners, or the lack thereof, that dictates our actions.

Have we Indians, always been so discourteous? Traditionally, no. Look at our custom of saying 'namaste'. Both hands pressed together close to our heart, head slightly lowered, and with a slight bow, we offer greetings to each other. But in our daily parlance, we are rarely polite, at least unlike the west and the Far East. I read a hilarious list of travel tips on Indian etiquette written by a foreign writer. She wrote, "The use of 'please' and 'thank you' are essential for good manners in Western culture. However, in India, they can create unnecessary formality…Being polite can be viewed as a sign of weakness in India, especially if someone is trying to scam or exploit you." That is the image that we bear to the outside world. Makes us sound like half-apes who fail to appreciate courtesy.

This is kind of true though, if you think about it. Most autowallahs, maids, and cab drivers look like rabbits in the headlights if a customer thanks them. Heck, even friends and colleagues look askance at the politer person in the group. Now don't go thinking of that customer service representative who throws up the same hackneyed lines over the telephone. That politeness is company protocol and paid for. Sadly, manners do not come naturally to us and is in fact, not ingrained in us at all.

A prime example of impoliteness and roguish behaviour? Coming straight from our government at the moment, to be honest. They are running around conducting raids on human rights activists, journalists, and left-wing intellectuals. If there are bona fide Maoist links, the guilty should be persecuted. Similarly, a stockpile of arms pointing to a terror plan being purportedly hatched by some right-wing elements also needs to be investigated.

When a government is elected, it carries with it the hopes, expectations, and dreams of an entire nation irrespective of caste, religion, gender, and yes, even ideology. The government is our government, the Prime Minister is our Prime Minister whether we voted for them or not. Therefore, the rights and welfare of all have to be taken forward.

But how rude it is to brand journalists and intellectuals "urban naxals" and arresting them armed with scant evidence. How indecorous to be hitting out at their ideas just because they differ from your own? One of the arrested individuals was allegedly asked, "Why do you read Mao? Why do you read Marx?" Dear government, first you tell us what to eat, then you tell us whom to love, and now you're telling which ideology to follow? This is not just impoliteness but also appallingly undemocratic. Unity in diversity also means acceptance of even divergent views. We can all agree to disagree. Wouldn't that be polite?

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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