The other day I witnessed a brawl on a bus where a person took objection to another using what is (wrongly) called “unparliamentary language” when speaking on the phone. The outraging guy told the other that it was not his culture to shout incestuous words to a busload full of passengers at the top of his voice even though he was using them “aise hi”. The guy was made to shut up and hang up. I suddenly remembered another incident that I had encountered around a year ago. Both these says a lot about how we behave in public, how civilized we are and how we respect others and their spaces.
I was smugly seated on a side lower berth in a AC 2 Tier coach, very satisfied with myself and proud of my achievement of (legally) acquiring a confirmed ticket on the (yes, you guessed it) 16525 Kanniyakumari – Bangalore “Island” Express, a near impossible task if you ask me. The coach was silent except for the sound of the Air Conditioning and the faint clatter of the wheels and rails. People were sitting or lying around minding their own business and many bays had their curtains drawn. I was sitting on my berth with legs stretched out and back supported by a pillow and was reading some magazine as the train crawled its way past the paddy fields of central Kerala, basking in the golden evening glow of the setting sun. Life was good and peaceful. Then it happened.
A phone rang. Someone picked it up and started speaking with glee in a mixture of Hindi and English in an annoyingly loud voice that shattered that pleasant silence. The guy got up from his berth and bay and started walking down the aisle of the coach. I was relieved. Maybe the guy will step outside to the doorway or vestibule to talk and leave us in peace. No such luck. The guy reached the door of the compartment, turned around and with one hand gesturing wildly in the air, walked down the aisle to the other end, all the while gaudily broadcasting to the World about how he was on top of things in matter of office politics and lives of a number of people and so on. And that was not all. The sentences were peppered with quite a number of those two or three words in Hindi slang which imply an incestuous relationship with close female relatives which are culturally or legally taboo and hence accusatory in nature (MC, BC, you have it). Actually every other word was one of these, as we usually hear. But these words have become parts of everyday usage today and are used freely in conversation. Especially so, the Gen-Y “yuppy” “cool” generation find it cool to throw around slang as much as possible.
Anyway, the guy’s annoying “Walk and Talk (at the top of your voice)” continued for around four rounds and showed no signs of abating. It seemed that he felt he was alone in the coach or probably in the train as well or maybe he was thinking he was obliging all of us with juicy stories of how people passed out at parties and how stupid some others were for not listening to him. I was considering the prospect of confronting him and asking him politely to behave, when a dramatic turn of events happened.
There was a young family in the bay opposite to me. Dad, Mom, a boy around 5 years of age and a baby girl. As soon as the boor passed us for the fourth or fifth time, the little boy turned to his dad and asked:
“ഡാഡി, ഈ ബെഹെന്ചോദ് എന്ന് വച്ചാല് എന്തുവാ?” (Daddy, what exactly does this “BC” mean?”)
Stunned myself, I looked at them, wondering what the dad would tell his son. The dad’s face resembled the expression of someone who was just hit by a cement mixer. Then it went all red. He told his son to go sit with his mother and got up, all six feet of him, and walked after the clod, caught him by his shoulder, spun him around, snatched the phone from his hand and (presumably) disconnected the call. Following this some dialogue ensued between them that I couldn’t quite make out, but generally the dad was outraging at the boor for his uncivilized conduct in public. I left my seat and moved towards them to get a clearer picture.
The Dad: “…..Were you raised in a stable, man?”
Boor: “….What are you talking about? Give my phone back!”
The Dad: “Forget about your phone! Is this how you talk in public? Can’t you keep your voice down? And not use abuse? where are your manners? Can’t you see there are other people on this train, you cultureless idiot??!”
Boor: “I will talk as I want! Who are you to ask? Don’t call me idiot! You have to adjust, hamara culture yeh hota hai!”
The Dad: “Why should I adjust?? Should I sit there and suffer your nonsense? For what?? Who are you anyways? What do you think of yourself? Is this how you behave in public? This is not my culture! If abusing your mothers and sisters on a daily basis is your “culture”, you should keep that at home and use it there where it belongs! There are old people here, kids and all! What an impression will you make on them? Do you know what my five-year old son asked me? What the word you were using meant! What should I answer him? You tell me!”
The Boor suddenly went silent and he started stuttering searching for words when an elderly lady and another guy came out in support of the Dad, saying this guy was definitely bad mannered and the elderly lady even asked for his mother’s phone number! The dad continued:
“Boss, What were you trying to explain? That you are something great? No one cares man! Understand that you are not the only person here and others have equal rights to this place and the right to travel unharassed! I am sure many people here wanted to tell you the same thing what I am telling you now!”
I piped up in support: “I would certainly have!”
Defeated, the Boor played his final card: “But everyone used those words…”
The Dad: “Yes. Even I do. But there is a time and place for everything. It is fine using those words when you are with your friends or equals, but not in a train full of random people! Do you use those words in front of your dad and mom? Elders? Man, you made a mistake! Accept it! Be a little more cultured, civilized and considerate while you are around other people, okay? That will make their life better! Show some consideration! What do you have to lose?”
The Boor fell silent. The Dad gave his phone back and still fuming, walked back to his seat. His wife was anxiously watching the exchange standing in the aisle. The boy, bewildered, looked at his father and started asking more questions, none of which received any answers until he pulled the curtain to the bay. Later, I met him in the vestibule and told him that I would have said all that if he didn’t. He smiled and said: “Why are people like this? They should learn to behave in public first before they are let out of their houses! I think some people are brought up under the impression that all this is normal. This is why Indians have such a bad name in the World!” I nodded my head and agreed.
Later, the boor’s phone rang again. As I anxiously watched, he plugged in his earphones and went out of the compartment. #EpicWIN!
Please note that this is not against any region, people, culture or language. We are all equal partners in crime as the general insensitivity people show towards other people in any part of our country as we can see in queues, while driving, in public transport etc. Some people of some parts of the country do use swear words in public more than what some others, and this too “educated” people. We should learn that we are not the only person around and others have equal rights to occupy public space around us. Etiquette is what makes us human, by giving respect to others and making their like easier, being humble ourselves and not lifting ourselves above everything with our bloated egos trying to show the world how “great” and “important” we are. There is nothing to be gained or no ego to be massaged by broadcasting on the top of our voice the greatness of us, like many people do in lifts, public transport, cinema halls etc. Stupid lowlives. Please don’t be one of them!