18 Mar 2018 19:32 IST

One night at international arrivals

Where there’s plenty to observe and lots more to ruminate over

The flight was due to arrive at 2.20 am. It was around 2 am. In a short while it landed, but the baggage apparently went AWOL, so there I was, having found a spot at the security barrier to latch on to, unwilling to relinquish that one-foot square inch space, come what may. Occasionally turning around to survey the scene and give the neck and limbs a stretch, I realised that an uncountable number of men think nothing of suddenly grabbing their crotches and scratching furiously. There was no way to avert my eyes because no matter where I turned, there was always some such disgusting sight locking into my field of vision. Short of staring down at my own toes, which admittedly are not things of beauty, there was nowhere else to direct my gaze.

At work, a colleague complained that she’d had a rotten journey back from Bengaluru on the Shatabdi that morning — all because of the passenger sitting next to her had slept right through with his legs spread wide. Now this colleague is a tiny thing, occupying very little physical space in the universe. But this young man — yes, he was a young man — was not content with occupying his own allotted plot, he had leached on to hers too. Consequently she was forced to travel in a state of high alert, feebly attempting to fend off the advancing occupational hazard. By the time she got in to work that same day, she was exhausted. Worse, she was thoroughly disgusted.

“It’s called manspreading,” another colleague explained. While the affected colleague merely pulled a face upon hearing this, I decided to go to Old Faithful. Yes, Wikipedia. And what do you know? It has plenty to say.

For one, manspreading is also called man-sitting. Basically, this is the practice of men sitting in public transport with legs spread wide apart. There’ve been lots of protests against this, and of course, the social media has been a pretty popular platform for them. Some metro corporations have requested passengers to be respectful while using public transport: this injunction is directed not only at manspreaders but also at women who occupy more than their legitimate space on public transport with an overload of bags. Some people call it she-bagging — when women spill over out of their seats into adjacent seats with their bags.

So, it appears the battle is between manspreaders and she-baggers. While some people claim that the reason for this posture is to avoid “testicular compression from the thigh muscles”, a men’s rights group argues that campaigns against manspreading is like forcing women to stop breastfeeding on public transport.

Then there was this man on my left who, for about 110 minutes out of the 120 that I was at my vigil, talked non-stop on his mobile phone, mostly of the lub-dub variety. Now, this is a free country — you don’t need to link your love-talk to Aadhaar just yet but the love jihadists, they are roaming wild — so he can whisper whatever the hell he wants to whoever the hell he wants whenever he wants but not — please note — NOT wherever he wants. Certainly not into my ear. Actually, not even within my earshot, and definitely not for 110 minutes. If somebody wants to talk on the phone, sure, go ahead, but please do not yell down my meatus acusticus externus, my external acoustic meatus, my ear canal, the tube running from my outer ear to my middle ear so I am forced to eavesdrop on all the confabulations, sweet, sour and nothing.

Everybody does it outdoors, sometimes even in the middle of the street. Conduct their private conversations, I mean. Or conclude their business deals. Loudly and clearly for the world to hear. Else, they’re poring over earth-shattering information on their handhelds, oblivious to oncoming traffic, beeping horns, cursing cyclists, red lights, green lights. After all, it’s not their fault if they get hit or run over.

The worst is when you’re talking to someone and they’re not even pretending to listen. They’re looking at the phone, they’re messaging away, they’re laughing out loud, they’re simply not there, they’re in cyberspace. They come to visit you, and they spend all the time talking to someone else or messaging someone else. They’re at a meeting — at work, mind you — and they’re constantly checking the phone. They’re talking to you and they say, oh, there’s another call coming, bye.

You stop at the red signal, and the person behind you starts honking. The signal’s red, can’t you see? Can, can, but don’t care. Move, it’s a signal, so what if it’s red or green. You blinking idiot, move. That’s what the honker’s saying. And then, a little way down the road, as you take the right turn, another vehicle overtakes you, on the turn, scaring the life out of you. There’s no time to recover, though, because meanwhile, there’s an onslaught on the left as well and you’re well and truly pinned in the middle. This is SOP, standard operating procedure, on Indian roads, age, sex, religion, caste no bar.

And you have to count yourself lucky if you don’t then nearly crash into giggly schoolgirls ambling five or six abreast in the middle of the road, blissfully unmindful of the turmoil surrounding them. What about bikers holding conversations with each other as they sail happily along, or drivers talking on the phone as they continue slowly down the middle of the road? Try to break up their tête-à-tête and see what dirty looks you get!

Just the other day I nearly got my nose broken. I was just about to push open the door to Nuts ‘n’ Spices when two men popped up on the other side and pushed the door outward and simply strode out of the shop. I jumped back in surprise and luckily didn’t tumble back down the steps. They were engrossed in their conversation, awareness and etiquette be damned.

The list of irritating things people do is endless. There are those who throw balls of hair and potato chip packets and a zillion other things out the window — stationary or moving — without a second thought. There are others who spit freely left, right and centre, sharing mucous, saliva and god knows what else with the world, and showing that they did it. As for the throat-clearers and snorters, the less said, the better. Maybe, the less said any further, the better. The pushers, the shovers, the elbow-pasters, the gesticulators, the cursers, the damners, the tall-tale-tellers…

But the question remains: Why are we like this?

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