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Politeness has many nuances and hues. Soumya explains what politeness cost his father-in-law in the hands of his nephew-in-law. And later, the price that polite nephew-in-law had to pay, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
The traditional view of the mild and polite people south of the Vindhiyas or from our Eastern climes is that the boisterous and gregarious Punjabis are a rude bunch. However, having married into a Punjabi family, I know that, in this particular family at least, politeness is prevalent to dangerous degrees. On second thoughts, it is perhaps this particular brother-in-law of mine, married to cousin of my wife, who tilts the balance. Here are two stories to establish my observation.
My father-in-law had gone to visit his niece in Chandigarh, as he was going there anyway to meet up with some of his other relatives and visiting the niece and her in-laws was a social obligation. After the usual formalities of small talk, when he tried to leave, his niece’s in-laws insisted that he stay over. Not wishing to sound impolite, and not wishing to stay in the formal atmosphere, he tried a white lie, saying that he needed to return to Delhi on the same day. But he had not contended with his extremely polite nephew-in-law.
This gentleman insisted on not only escorting him to the bus stand but buying the ticket to Delhi, overcoming the vehement protests of my poor father-in-law but also put him on the bus and stayed glued to him until the bus left, bidding him goodbye, despite every effort of his guest to get away.
The poor elderly gentleman had to get off at the next town and take a taxi back, cursing his polite nephew-in-law all the way.
In the second incident, this polite gentleman himself was the sufferer and I had an unintentional role to play in this.
There was a religious function at my in-laws and I had been roped in to serve food to the guests. To the religious Sikhs, the food is a blessing from God and the bread is called ‘Prasada’ or blessings and cannot be wasted. Moreover, the more religious or polite people do not refuse verbally when it is offered but through polite gesture, indicate that no more need be served.
I, being an atheist Bengali and more tuned to irreverent practices back east, was unaware of these niceties. Thus, when I offered him a hefty piece of oven roasted bread called ‘Tandoori Roti’, he politely put his hands together in a gesture of greeting or ‘namaste’ and smiled at me. I was surprised as we had met and greeted each other a short while back but politely greeted him back and served him the roti. He seemed to look a bit crestfallen at that and gamely proceeded to clear his plate. He being a small thin guy, I marveled at his appetite.
When I came around for third helpings, this polite gentleman, with panic written all over his face, made the Namaste gesture again, grimacing in a smile. Extremely surprised by his short memory as we had greeted each other for the second time a few minutes ago and also at his enormous appetite, I greeted him back and served him the huge ‘Prasada’. By then, seeing his tearful face as he attempted to consume this blessing someone came around and explained to me the significance of his gestures.
He was spared further holy torture and my cultural awareness increased by this explanation but I realised that on all occasions, politeness does not pay.
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