26.6.06

Get the hell out of the way!

Oh my gott, my dear Mumbai has been judged the rudest city in the world! Must I keel over and feel like lightning has struck me (that would be cruel, for lightning in fact did kill a girl recently)? Or must I get all ballistic because this is just so rude? Or should I get self-righteous and start giving examples of how we ooze kindness from every pore?

“Reader's Digest magazine sent reporters into the principal cities of each of the 35 countries where it is published, to conduct a survey of local politeness. Three tests were employed: dropping papers in a busy street to see if anyone would help; checking how often shop assistants said ''thank you''; and counting how often someone held a door open.”


1. Assuming you are walking down a busy street and going someplace with a bunch of papers, why would you drop them? That reveals carelessness on your part, not rudeness on the part of passersby because I think it is extremely rude to eye anyone’s personal papers.

2. In Mumbai shop assistants will unfurl yards of cloth even if you look like the kind who would not wear much, so it is you – the customer – who should be doing the thanking. And anyway, having travelled to many parts of the world, I have not encountered too many ‘thank yous’ after a purchase.

3. What doors need to be opened?? Most doors in Mumbai are already open. People leave lift doors open, store doors ajar with airconditioning seeping out. Our chemists have open entrances, gates are left wide open for strays, thieves and visitors.

Returning to the invigorating subject of rudeness, it is such a huge relief compared with the “Helloji, how’re you ji?” of Delhi, or the “Bhalo, hain?” seemingly sweet as rossogulla enquiry of Kolkata, or the rocking of the head with the accompanying, “Good no?” down South.

Mumbai does not ask you how you are; it tells you. In a fast-paced life where people discover who their neighbours are after they have been killed, there is something comforting in the thought that you are given directions to the state of your well-being. And the fact is you are as good as you are made to feel.

Yes, we Mumbaiites have been accused of brazenness, of being callous, uncaring. We are perhaps all of these and we make no excuses. I like it if someone tells me they are busy rather than saying, “Oho, pliss come, come, anytime” and then the person disappears or makes you wait.

Mumbai traffic moves like a turtle, but you won’t find rickshaw drivers climbing on to the pedestrian walkways “for shortcut”.

Mumbai has little time for niceties and that is the nicest thing about it. You don’t have to plan to meet it with fake smiles. Mumbai welcomes your scowls and you merge with it effortlessly.

This sounds suspiciously like love. Perhaps love is the rudest thing two people can do to each other…

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