Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grown ups

A couple of months back, my niece turned 5 and demanded a “Barbie that can be dressed up” for a gift. The maasi that I am, the temptation to buy her her first  Enid Blyton was too strong, so I just added the toy on top of that. The cab ride to her place was a long one and I couldn’t resist revisiting Amelia Jane and her naughty tricks while the driver made his way through Mumbai’s ever-present traffic snarl.
 I can talk to you about Enid Blyton and her work at any time and without much provocation, but I was recently reminded of those little books through a very different experience. 
Here’s what happened:
 I happened to attend a class for first aid training—basic stuff like how to help someone who is choking, how to give CPR and tie up wounds till help arrives—with a bunch of other people. It is all work related, so I will steer clear of details. Let it suffice to say unlike most training sessions I’ve attended, this one was very informative and the instructors—ex military men from Australia—were super efficient.
The trainers told us that they usually take four or five days to teach the course we were supposed to cover in two days.  So, we were asked to stick to our schedules to help them teach us as much as possible.  There were about ten people in each batch and my group had men and women from various parts of the country, with work experiences ranging from 5 to 35 years.  
And what would you expect from a room full of grownups learning about useful things like how to potentially save a life?  Discipline and decorum, yes?
Hah.  Think again.
So here we were, learning about important (at least I think so) things like how to save a life if there is an accident. Imagine my surprise when as the trainer was demonstrating how to tend to a fatally bleeding wound,  the volunteer , a fully grown man with a daughter in her late teens, suddenly looked up and told his friend—“take a picture, na!”
Of course, I was not the only person who was surprised but the thing is, we were in the minority. Most people in the room thought that was perfectly normal behavior, to interrupt a session mid way and distract an entire room because you want to take a picture of yourself in a splint.
In Enid Blyton’s world, that would be enough to make you a social pariah, where your friends would force you to apologize for such behavior.
The session progressed and we were given our first break. 5 minutes. Only, by the time everyone returned to their seats, it was 10. This went on till the trainers had to threaten to time us.  More surprise, that two men  had to use headmaster quality tone to teach a room full of adults about sticking to time did not bother anyone at all, much less embarrass them.
Then there were innumerable instances where people had to basically be asked to shut up, because they would not know the difference between asking a question and making strange, irrelevant statements.  And oh, the umbrage at being given a lunch break at 12, because “we are not hungry now!”  Never mind that your trainers, being from Australia, might not know you are used to lunching at 2 and never mind that even if you don’t eat at 12 everyday, surely you can make an exception for once?
The trainers finally came up to me, bewildered, and asked “seriously, all this confusion over what time to break for lunch?”
I would laugh if it was not so sad, really. 
This in a room full of grownups, who otherwise would claim to be decent, well educated men and women. I have always maintained that we as a people are a bunch of noisy, ill mannered idiots who have very very little sense of propriety.
I have seen that at traffic signals where people roll down windows and throw their trash out pat in the middle of the road and at weddings where people push, shove and nudge like barbarians, all because they want the good piece of meat.
I have fought with friends who have taken offence at my saying so and I will be glad to be proven wrong.
Till then, I have that training room to tell me I am not. Wonder what Enid Blyton would say.


Saiku said...

I feel uneasy to know that kind of inappropriate behavior, that too among corporate professionals. I can imagine how embarrassed you would be. But time table should have been scheduled practically to avoid such mishaps. Cultural differences are bound to rise and they couldn't be overcome in 1-2 days. We should know where our weaknesses can be exposed and plan accordingly. We can't risk our nation's prestige. Not every one has that pride feeling "My Country". I am not justifying our citizens behavior. Every time, we have to plan a small change which would work, instead of a water shed change. Otherwise we would outcast our own people to make visitors feel home. People like you who understand cultural differences should play a big role in such events making things smoother for everyone. That's our duty as 'NRI-Returnee'.

Eight years back Greg Chappell, an Australian, was hired as Indian Cricket coach. He meddled with ways Indian system work with out being sensitive to cultural practices. For good or bad, he could have taken more time to bring change. His out-of-box thinking led India out of tournament in early stage. He was definitely best cricketing mind but he didn't know what exactly he was juggling.

Thank you for educating me about Enid Blyton. You opened a big gate to Children's literary world. Now, I know what to read for my kid. So far I have been telling him on-the-fly bed time stories which don't make any sense.

Nivedita Bhattacharjee said...

This was not about any watershed change, nor about being any returnee at all. I am definitely not saying we need to give up our culture and practices to make way for the West.
Never. But there is a difference between propagating "culture" and doing what you want and calling it "our culture." To respect other people, not interrupt them when they are speaking, adjusting yourselves when you are taking part in a group activity, being punctual are not Western concepts-- we have learnt about them in school too. That we conveniently choose to forget that and tag anyone who sticks to those principles "too westernised", or dismiss them with a "yeh sub yaha nahi chalta" is a shame, really.

You are welcome about Enid Blyton. I don't know how big your kid is, but depending on age there's the Magic Faraway Tree, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Noddy, Naughtiest Girl, Mallory Towers, Golliwog, 8 o clock tales and so much more! :)

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..