I have grown up respecting other’s space. Since childhood I’ve been told how rude it is to stare at others, listen to conversations where I have not yet been addressed, be curious about what the neighbours are up to and etc.
In my probashi Bangali consciousness, at least, it’s highly uncultured to be what in 2016 Delhi, we often call ‘proactive’, ‘aware’ and ‘curious’. Having an answer before one can finish the question. ‘Ha korte haora bojha.’ No, we are better than that. We are about feelings and about mood. We are about sighs and silent gestures that communicate our discomforts, disagreements and even appreciation. We are hardly what you’d call vocal.
Even though that’ll hardly seem true of the carom city with its frequent protest marches and bandhs, yet, I believe that these are the essence of the middle class Bangali. Where else would my parents have thought of these ideas and passed them on to me?
The idea is to stay out of trouble at all cost. Tuck your neck deep into your shoulders, keep your head, ears and eyes to yourself because you never know who’s observing you. Keep your jaw stiff – you don’t want to be caught smiling, smirking or gaping.
When I was in ninth standard, on my way back from tuition (the only year my parents felt I would flunk without extra help), an istri wala followed me back home. I was worried enough to take a detour back to the main road through one of the many alleys that criss-crosses Chirag Delhi. I thought if he knew where I stay, I’d find him waiting for me outside the gully every day.
When I shared about the incident to my friend she knowingly raised her eyebrows and told me I smile too much. “He must have thought you are smiling for him. Never smile on the roads.”
Of course, I took her quite seriously back then. But Bengali standard what’s worse is, of course, to be caught gaping. That’s the worst. That’s what dumb and ‘uncultured’ Mednapuris do with their mouths. ‘Haa kora gongsha’ I’ve been taunted by my father.
So, a stiff jaw, a stiff neck and confused eyes. Be curt with strangers and let your guard down with familiar people. The middle class. Not just the Bengali but a pan-India phenomenon. And that’s what I was doing all this while. That’s what everyone does – trying to stay out of trouble. Until trouble comes knocking on the door.
The internet has made sure that anonymity is no longer an option. One can’t simply keep quiet and stiff jawed anymore. When everyone’s sharing, how does one get away without revealing themselves? The middle class that way has been quite ostrich like, hiding its head into the ground but forgetting the posterior is rather accessible. The internet has showed us the real picture. Nothing’s worth hiding anymore. It’s all out in the open.
In such a setting, what does someone like me do? What do I have to share with the world that’s new?
My dad keeps repeating – be really poor or be really rich. Don’t get stuck in the middle. There’s too much to save. Too much to hold on to, too much at stake and way too much to aspire.
So, I’m leaving. To find new stories for myself, to define my existence beyond the middle class and to either win or fail trying. No middle ground. With Rs. 50,000 in my ‘chhaposha’ SBI account, I’m leaving to seek a life extraordinaire or nothing.