One of Suha’s ‘Small flashes of real life’ from the series ‘Beware: Slippery… Sacred Ground’.
No, nothing extraordinary has happened. I simply started to look around, without the imaginary blindfold that slipped all of a sudden from my physical eyes. I can’t remember how it happened in the first place, but I’m beginning to enjoy it all. Just an example: usually when somebody asks me for something, I immediately give the information – the most important thing to me – without even looking at the person.
One day however – the mysteries of life – I realized how Indian people behave when they are asked for something, be it at a public place or not. They stop, withdraw imperceptibly to observe you better from head to toe: the jewellery you are wearing, how you are dressed, how you behave; then they rapidly scan you …. impudently, with motionless eyes: whether you can be trusted, in which kind of space you are (yes, for this they have a natural flair), if you are a ‘clean’ person, how far up they can go with the price if you have to buy something, or how they can cheat you… No more than 30 seconds have passed: are they dumb or don’t they want to answer, I say to myself?
Only then, in the vaguest way, really hard to make out, they say something. But by that time I am no longer interested in the answer; I have managed to observe the whole process and an inspiration suddenly comes to me: what if I were able to do the same? Difficult? No, just child’s play “if done with innocence” and at once here is the result: I look straight at the person, I see her, I feel with whom I have to deal, in which space she is, how I can answer and the rest belongs to the next moment, always different, always new, fitting for that specific person.
The joy of having moved a little further toward other people as well as toward my presence to myself, to have broken the grip of mechanical habits, must be repeated again. I can’t imagine to be able to be as good as the Indians in this respect, but I feel I can manage. And I am lucky because here in Pune even the stray dogs (and they are many) look straight into your eyes and with what eyes! This small gesture has been the beginning of a process that is expanding like an oil stain and gaining ground, stretching out on everything around me, wherever I happen to be. And I don’t feel uneasy if I keep people waiting for an answer just one handful of seconds. But what was I doing with my eyes before? What if I have unknowingly found the end of the skein?
But this is not all, there‘s more to it. I realize, for example, that Indian people are either much too talkative when they are together, or they are in a saving mood with words and gestures. Once I used to take great pains to say “good morning” and “good evening”, “many thanks” and “please” and so on, thinking that I was teaching them good manners. I think they were just wondering from what kind of a strange world I had come out! I watched them more closely. I go to a rickshaw stand, give the indication where I want to go, they look questioningly at each other – who is picking up the fare – the driver looks at me, nods while indicating the back seat. Not a single word, but I exchange the eye contact. And that is all. That eye contact includes it all, “good morning” and “good evening” “please” and “many thanks”. And I save energy.
I can hardly believe that it is so easy to relax. With Indian people you communicate through gestures and eye contact. They say it all. I try it: I go to a very famous bakery, where three rows of customers are waiting for their turn: I catch from far away the glance of a vendor, immediate eye contact, I give my order and I am served first. The other people around don’t bother at all, they know how to recognize their art when someone is learning it!
But there is another consideration to take into account. I am beginning to suspect that Indians are born “multitaskers” in the sense that they must get bored when serving only one customer at a time: they have not yet finished with me when they start taking an order from somebody else and I can never be sure whom they are taking care of! Nevertheless they succeed in doing everything pretty well, without making mistakes.
But watch out, if anyone dares to get ahead of me, I use the little Hindi I know to let the person know that I came first and have been waiting for a while! The vendor behind the counter looks at me smiling, maybe surprised by my nerve or by my incorrect Hindi… Anyway I don’t really mind at all, because it is just a magic in itself to have eyes to see…