It’s not easy when you act out what you’ve been meaning to for a long time.
One of the most powerful, and irritating, experiences that I’ve had on campus was at the kiosk; I was waiting to pick up some tea. This was almost a year and a half back, in semester 1, when I was fresh from my professional and western sense of personal space. This college, and most of India, knows nothing about personal space. There was already a row of students directly behind the counter, picking up tea and snacks that they needed. I stood in the next row, behind them, waiting to move in and order when they were done. Yes, life would be wonderful if we had a queue system now, wouldn’t it?
As I waited there, money in one hand and my phone in the other, a young lady joined the melee at the kiosk, in the circle (the crowd equivalent of a queue) behind me. How did I know she had joined our little, uncomfortable party? She was breathing down my neck (literally), was close enough to check my hair for split ends and her arm was stretched above all of the 5 foot and 7 inches of me. The icing on the cake was her shrill-pitched voice yelling ‘Bhayya, ek chai, bhayya, ek chai’. I realized that subtlety and hints were generally lost on this lot when none of my shuffling and mch’ing did any difference to her yelling. I wanted to turn around and shush her. I wanted to ask her if she thought I enjoyed standing where I was, stuck between a sweaty boy in the front and the shrieking her in the back. I wanted to remind her that I was there to pick up tea too, and it would only be fair for me to be served first, before she got her turn. I wanted to remind her of the sad situation that the anna was in, where he had his 2 hands and 2 ears competing against at least 100 hungry hands clawing at him. I stood still and waited for the sweaty boy in the front to get his job done.
Not a second later she yells ‘Abey chai dena, kutte ki aulaad’. It was of course drowned down by the rumpus around and never made it to the guy behind the counter. But I heard it crystal clear. I was fuming red. I turned around to let her have all that I had subdued only a second back, but all I could muster was a cold-dreaded stare. She got the message and walked away.
I think of that episode a lot, especially when I am at the kiosk and I see the persistent commotion. I often think of that young girl that I stared back at, and I wonder if she had learnt a lesson. I beat myself up for not coming up with a wittier response than a simple stare down. I worry for a generation that would go out of the safe confines of the university, and into the world, thinking that it was their legal entitlement to be served without a minute’s delay, and that it was okay to use any words they deem needed to get that done.
With all the thinking that I had done on this matter, today I was better prepared to respond when a similar incident replayed. I was waiting my turn for chai (I should probably stop drinking this much chai), and a young girl butts in from behind me and yells ‘Anna, ek tea’. I smile at her, she smiles back, and I ask her if I look like I was standing there for fun. Her smile drops half-way down, confused. “What happened?”, she asks. I explain my protest and her smile is completely gone. We stand there awkwardly as I pick up my tea and egg puff. As I head out, I say “Now is your turn. Luck!”, and she smiles, sheepishly.
And I felt miserable at the end of it all. Maybe more so than the previous time. I beat myself up this time for not picking the stare-down route. It actually hurt me to vocalize my discomfort because it made me sound like a bad person, where as I was not. Stopping someone from walking all over me made me feel like the one at fault. Why did I get disturbed for simply expressing something that I had played out in my mind many times before?
I finally understand something that I had heard over the weekend at Diversity Dialogues. Some of us are very comfortable being the victim; being the one oppressed. Some of us never speak up against what troubles us simply because we are comfortable playing the role of a traditionalist. We do not want the world to think ill of us because of our conflicting opinions. We play along in order to get that gold medal, a fake smile and a nod of acceptance. We conform!
Pics4mswiss: One of the chairs of Einstein, in the old city Berne. Sit with the man and talk about conforming.