It has always fascinated me how what I consider basic manners seem so alien to most Bengalis I know. For a long time I considered this lack to be because of the kind of bongs I was looking at. Admittedly none of the people I was noticing was anything to write home about, educationally, socially, and in manners and etiquette, by any stretch of the imagination. First generation displaced, most of those people were the first from their families to leave the villages they hailed from, and venture out into the larger world. Back in the 80s, these people were eminently forgivable for their gaffes and lapses of social niceties, especially of global good manners. However, in their children, born into the information age, highly educated at the “best” schools and colleges, and growing up exposed to the way the world lives and behaves via TV, movies, books, and the internet, it is not so forgivable.
Add family relationships into the mix, and I would expect more consideration, better manners. But, I have learnt that’s just me, and I am in a very, very small minority. From twisted hindi/regional film logic of “no please and no sorry in friendship” to the feudal/filial structure of allegiances, our culture systematically teaches us to be rude, rudest to the people close to us. I may find this counterintuitive, after all, if I care about them, it is even more vital to show them that I appreciate or value everything that they do for me, but most of us just don’t bother to think it through.
So, something like this happens. First, a little background. My little family unit, my parents, my brother, and my man and I, have recently “divorced” a particular branch of the larger extended family. There has been no ongoing feud, no war, no screaming/ranting in public, no putting-others-at-a-discomfort, and no asking-others-to-choose-sides. We have simply, calmly, quietly, and after a lot of deliberation and consideration, decided to cut ties with a particular set of people. Although the rest of the clan is aware of the rift, (we are not the kind to keep things a secret – especially when we don’t have anything to hide) they are not caught in the middle. We do not expect any of them to choose or take sides. And we have not the slightest expectations of them dropping their social correspondence simply because we have.
A rare confluence of people is taking place in the city at the moment. Cousins who live in the US, the Middle East, and off and on in other cities in India are, coincidentally, all here at the moment, as are my parents, who are the sort to never be in one place for very long. Given this happy turn of events, my mother decided she was going to have all the “kids” over for dinner. People were notified, preparations began in earnest, the relative merits of home/restaurant, cook/cater/order, were hotly debated, and a final decision arrived at. We were pumped up, happy, excited, looking forward to a really fun day.
And then, the legendary bong manners struck. My mother received a call saying her inviting all the kids other than the ones from “that particular unit” does not “look nice”, and hence no one was going to turn up, and she should cancel the party. Much as I am happy to be spared the expense, and the headache and hard, work of planning and executing the event, (given that my mom is particularly infirm at the moment and not much help other than in great ideas), I find this WRONG and RUDE on so many levels!
First off, if I am invited to a dinner, I would never even think of asking who else was on the guest list. I would consider it none of my business, I would consider it rude to ask, and I would trust that the host had his/her own reasons for asking everyone they had/hadn’t asked. Secondly, if I did know the guests list, I would not make the attendance of three separate but related family units dependent on the presence/absence of one person. Actually, presence…maybe… as in I personally may not attend a function/event where I know someone I intensely dislike or wish to avoid might be present, but absence, no. It is none of my business why the hosts have not asked x, y, or z to the same party as me. It is THEIR event, and it is THEIR right to choose who to ask. No one else has the least right to edit their guest list – No one – unless that person is a special friend/family member who has been ASKED to help with the arrangements and to SPECIFICALLY trim the guest list.
What happened here was more sinister. My mother was basically DICTATED to. She was told that she cannot choose who she wants in her home, or who she can/cannot ask to dinner on a particular day. She was actually asked to CANCEL an event by people who had absolutely no right to do any such thing! And coming from our “culture” that puts so much emphasis on respecting our “elders”, it is doubly rude!! To call up an aunt and say you have to ask X to dinner or none of us will come so you better cancel the damn event?! I cannot imagine EVER doing something like that.
Also, I have to consider the other side of the issue. When these same cousins will be invited to the house of the “particular unit” for something, as is inevitable (in fact a large event is expected next month or so), will they refuse that invitation as well? Will they make THEM cancel the event also? Somehow, I don’t think so. And if they don’t, then essentially they are creating a war where none existed. Just coming and having dinner at my mother’s invitation would not have been choosing sides. If anyone could be accused of partiality/unfairness, it would be my mom. But choosing NOT to come, and to have the event cancelled, puts them firmly in the OTHER camp, especially when (as I expect) they accept invitations from there, which don’t include us.
So, essentially, this part of the clan has decided to PLEASE, APPEASE, and side with the “particular unit” that too in a very clear, unequivocal, and in-your-face way. Well, good luck to them. But I would really have appreciated some better manners.