“What i find most annoying is the way everyone intrudes into your personal space here,” said one member who has since chosen to migrate and settle in another country. It was some years back and we were having a general family conversation about people and attitudes. The statement drew puzzled looks from the others and so he elaborated further, “Take for example when we stop at the traffic signal when it turns red. Why must the other car fellow peek into my car and stare?” Someone wryly retorted, “That’s because your foreign girl friend is sitting beside you, so naturally they’ll stare!” The discussion then collapsed into flippant ribbing of each other as family conversations often do. That observation however, made one conscious of this phenomenon and i began to notice that ’staring’ at others is actually quite rampant in our country and is not even considered rude! It’s like a ‘cultural tendency’: it’s okay for people to stare at you just as it is alright for you to stare back at them. For the most part no offense is meant or taken and the conduct is brushed aside as normal curiosity. Looking into the car that pulls up alongside at the traffic light, gazing at the food on the table next to yours in a restaurant, pointedly glancing at the person while they remove their digital devices in the security line at airports…no one considers there is anything improper about all this. And if your physical appearance is somewhat different from those around, just prepare to be ogled at!
In many ways this propensity also stems from the fact that we are forever crowding into each other. The very concept of respecting the other person’s ‘personal space’ is foreign to us. Some may even ask as to where is the personal space with a population of a billion plus and a population density of over 400 per square km. Compare that to a Canada or Australia with just 3 or 4 people per km or even US with an average density of 35 odd and you partly begin to understand why for us it’s normal to jostle for space. In markets, shopping malls, railway stations, public buses, even hospitals the radius of free space around you is limited and when over-crowded you just resign yourself to being surrounded by people pressing against you from all sides! In most other countries i have found people have a strong sense of personal identity and the vehicle of this sentiment, their physical body, has a force field around…you don’t trespass that and they reciprocate by respecting yours. So no one shoves his arm over your shoulder and waves his money/ticket at the person behind the counter, and even when you are standing in a queue there is no question of a push or shove or even an accidental touch, indeed the latter would probably elicit a profuse apology from the offender. And no one gives you uncomfortable stares either.
Perhaps with greater cosmopolitan penetration we too will learn to respect the other persons right to his personal space and not intrude by staring or physically violating it. Or perhaps others will learn not to be so sensitive and just get used to the idea that we are ’naturally curious’ and that isn’t an offence is it?!