Kids Corner


Oh, We So Love To Talk!
Or Is It Networking?





Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan

One thing we like to do, as a nation, is talk.

We love it.

I live in Punjab, where I find the average Punjabi is by and large laid back and chatty. People are grim faced and dour until you ask them a question, and then they blossom into founts of personal information flowing freely.

The only problem is that we lack that valuable sense of judgment about boundaries. I don’t know how it goes with men, but women prattle on and on and think nothing of asking you the most inappropriate questions known to humanity, or offering information in the same vein.

One genuinely does not want to know in the elevator of one’s apartment building about what to feed one’s husband in order to have sons (fish and dry fruit) or the state of their strange eczemas (don’t ask).

Our blithe lack of boundaries is a manifestation of what I like to think of as the Privilege of Age, combined with the excellent self-assurance of the average middle-aged person who is extremely satisfied with himself.

Why else would you be gravely told by the lady sitting next to you on the Daewoo bus to marry soon otherwise your innards will dry up?

I am determined to invade everyone’s personal space when I am old. It seems like a lot of fun to, without batting an eyelid, deliver little advisory speeches to any errant young ‘un I encounter. It must make one feel like an extension of Mrs Beecham and Miss Manners to sample someone’s samosas and lift an eyebrow ever so faintly, only to inquire whether said samosas are home-made. Imagine consoling your target in a tone laced with the subtlest kind of disdain as one is shamefacedly told that the samosa came from Shadman market.

It is the stuff of dreams.

Methinks though, on a more serious note, that our sense of public and private is so confused because we generally tend to live surrounded by family. Everyone’s life within it is under scrutiny, and the object of great interest.

Unlike nuclear families, when you live in a joint family, or very close to family, one is never far from the latest update on everyone’s life. We are so entirely surrounded by tales of dropout cousins, controlling aunts, thwarted love, strange maladies and rishta (matchmaking) intrigues that one seems to just keep rolling with the gossip, and it spills over all the time.

How can one possibly keep all that information to oneself?

And that is how you find out the entire story of how someone’s sister deliberately sabotaged one aunty’s son’s engagement to get back at her for not letting her son marry the sister’s daughter.

One needs a new audience to tell one’s tales to. We are so used to our relatives and their various permutations that it really begins to make no difference whether someone is your taayi’s niece or a stranger at a funeral. One jumps right into the thick of it, quite gamely. And you never know, the stranger may well turn out to be your taayi’s niece after all, only she had her hair straightened permanently and lost fifty pounds so you didn’t recognize her immediately.

Maybe it’s nice to connect with people. I recently had a lovely chat with a very interesting young woman at the salon, and it was very pleasant indeed. The crucial difference though is that we were both willing participants in this exchange, and more often than not one is not approached but accosted by people. They are curious, which is a human trait.

But many people are curious in that unpleasant manner -- intrigued, but derisive. There is nothing kind in their attempt to connect with you; the sole purpose of their interaction is to try and drag you down. They are the ones who tell you that you really shouldn’t dress your daughters in shorts because people will think they are boys, or that you should quit your job and stay home and look after your father. They are the ones who ask which college you’re going to and then wince pityingly when you tell them.

Respecting someone’s personal space is not only down to kindness, but also to manners. It is impolite to ask how much one earns, or whether one conceived naturally, or the state of one’s large intestine. Often it is downright unkind. We go to funerals and talk loudly about who the doctor was and what they did wrong. We go to see babies and count back the months between the birth and the wedding.

Our strange obsession with knowing all there is to know about other people, combined with our complete conviction that we know best, results in that awful attitude many people have where they think that they can just say whatever they like, whenever and wherever they like. It’s probably a form of narcissism.

Or maybe I’m just a curmudgeon who never wants to talk about herself.

[Courtesy: The Nation]
November 21, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 21, 2014, 7:38 PM.

As the Year's Chic Sikh I would nominate itself with Sher Singh at its helm who relentlessly keeps it up a notch higher daily. easily now replaces The Readers' Digest which now has much more commercial content than the flesh it had once. Taking "Oh, We So Love To Talk! Or, Is It Networking?" by a Punjaban Lahoran, Mina Malik-Hussain that transcends boundaries and spreads without denominational traits something that is so typical of all Punjabis. Here is a bit more to add. A Sikh zamindar (landlord) was walking in his field followed by his ubiquitous 'munshi' (clerk) in trail and telling him that the 'fasal' (crop) this year was excellent and generally basking in pleasure when the faithful Munshi suddenly said: "Sardar ji, I think your son should now get married." "Oye, how did my son come in with the 'fasal'? "Sardar ji, it just occurred to me that you need a grandchild!" It is more hilarious if related in Punjabi.

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