Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jolly Walkers

Why in India, at least in Chennai, do walkers do their best not to make eye contact? Ok, they may be complete strangers but one walker will either acknowledge another with a cold stare or furtive glances, or simply by turning away his or her face to avoid any expression.

If someone does decide to overlook these cold-shoulder techniques and smiles at another co-walker, he or she is usually greeted with suspicion -- either a suspicious look or a tentative half-smile which says: SHOULD I be smiling back at you?

I usually appraise a co-walker in the far distance and screw up my eyes in concentration to see if he or she is recognisable. If so, then I quickly think of how to go about saying hi and figure out whether I really want to stop and talk or just pretend to see them in the last moment and quickly say hi, how are you and bye. If I don't know them, so much the better. As I get closer I 'check' him or her out and then decide if I fel like giving him or her more than the one furtive glance (Thiruttu muzhi it is called in Tamil).

'When in Rome...' syndrome, i call it. Don't want to be known as the only whacko who smiles at everyone in sight.

Of course, I need to clarify at this point that I do not really qualify as a 'walker' -- two days does not cut it. But having gone for walks erratically and otherwise for oh so many years, I have observed enough walkers to know better than to smile at co-walkers I don't know.

Mostly cos I hate it when my smile is not returned!


Radha said...

Bingo. Even after more than a decade in the US (where you DO smile at strangers and are not thought strange for it), my first instinct is still to not acknowledge that person. I hate that habit, and have been trying hard to break it - mostly succeed, but I still have to work at it.

Anyway, my first time back in Chennai after a year in the US, first day back, I smiled at a stranger coming towards me (was still jet lagged and sleep deprived, and forgot where I was, is all I can say). Said guy thought it was an invitation to do... something. God knows what was in that creep's mind. But he started following me, so I wandered around for a bit to make sure, then confronted him. He was taken aback and said "I was only following you to make sure you got home safely". Yeah RIGHT!

And after that, I slipped right back into my usual "ignore the peasants" expression when out walking or on the bus or train :P That's my little story for the day.

Shyam said...

You've got an eye for detail, Teesu :) But I'm the person who usually avoids eye contact esply when I'm not feeling friendly. Which is very often :)

Ameeta said...

So true - nobody ever acknowledges anybody here. During my first visit abroad, I was a little stumped and did not know quite what to do when a stranger said 'hi' to me most casually and walked away. Even before I could gather a response together.

UL said...

This had me smiling... i am the kind who keeps smiling until I get a response..esp. since I am always walking and encountering the same old folks all the time. There are tonnes who has a bomb for a face, but smile at them four times and the bomb is bound to explode on the fifth! Make them feel guilty and cajole a response! Painful but I enjoy it, fun stuff :) Nice read, landed here on my blog hopping journey.