So often it happens that we follow certain habits, mostly mechanically, but become aware of it only when someone else mentions it to us. And then it becomes a problem. The same thing happens while observing others’ habits. People might be doing certain things over and over again before our eyes, yet we don’t notice. However, as soon as some third person brings it to our notice, we too start noticing and then the sight becomes annoying. I know several people who end every sentence with an emphatic (and rude) ‘right?’, people biting their nails whenever they start thinking, and playing tabla when they are approaching the solution of their problem and so on. Some others tap their shoes on floor, while others rotate their chairs. Then again few people open a door with a hand but close it with a foot, few others do it the other way round.
A certain practice is being followed day and night before your eyes; then suddenly someone mentions it to you, and you look around and find that it is indeed correct. Then you ask yourself, ‘Indeed, why is it so?’
Once a foreigner friend asked me, “How come all Indians walk with low heads?” I did not understand; she clarified, “See, there are all sorts of people — thin, healthy, handsome, weak, rich, poor, professor, student — all walk looking down, heads held low. Why?”
I did not have any answer. I looked around and to my surprise found that it was indeed so. It is already a decade since that question was put to me, but I still do not have any answer.
No, I am not going to write a sermon pleading you to walk with broad chest as Swami Vivekananda did, or firm shoulders as Swami Abhedananda urged, or head held high as Rabindranath wanted. You may walk or sit in the way you like; just help me find the answer to that question. Why our heads always low?
Even today whenever I go outdoors, and get to see my countrymen, the sight I get reminds me of that query. People from the last generation would blame the weak character and constitution of today’s youth, forgetting completely that they themselves had never been any different. Religious leaders would blame western education, patriots would blame foreign invasion, feminists would blame patriarchal society, communists would blame capitalists and vice versa, right wing would blame Congress rule and so on. Everybody has some theory and plan for blame game. However, if you cross-check those arguments, none of them is a correct answer.
Even if the years spent under foreign rule did squeeze out all our confidence, then how come the innumerable moments, when our pride and self respect raised its hood like an angry serpent, failed to make our heads permanently high? Stories of Major Somnath Sharma to Captain Vikram Batra still keep our blood warm, we take excessive pride in Tendulkar and Saina, talk about Sarabhai and Amartya Sen, we boast of green and white revolutions, the INSAT series and the GSLV, we dance for Mangalyan and Chandrayan, and never fail to mention the Mangeshkar sisters. Oh, the list is too long and I am already tired! But above all, our women, the common but extraordinary women who have kept the customs and traditions alive, collectively called the Indian culture, which we so loudly boast of at every occasion and celebrate through our advertisements about the Incredible India. Personally I feel immense pride whenever any foreigner visitor requests for basmati rice and gobhi fry in restaurants, or conveys deep admiration for Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. So we see that the occasions had been several — personalities, events, achievements. Then how come all of them together couldn’t lift the pride of the nation to great heights?
Sometimes I have a doubt that perhaps they have dropped something, e.g. money, and are searching for it. What have Indians lost? Self respect, pride, faith, confidence, trust? Direction? Ambition and desire? Or everything? And if so, then is there any possibility of finding them lying on a road? Or is it due to the excessive burden and responsibility, which they have to carry on their shoulders?
Or is it that my arguments are completely wrong; and in fact the opposite is the case. It is not that there is nothing to be proud of; instead, there are far too many things and people to take pride in! Therefore, people bow their heads before every other person and every other thing — politicians, mothers, fathers, teachers, gurus, gods, books, everybody. Bending every other moment and before every other person has permanently deformed our spines and our necks. It brings an additional advantage — when we bow before other people, they do not get to see our faces. So it becomes very easy to hide our true expressions and feelings. And don’t forget, in this country itself someone touched someone’s feet and then shot him dead.
If you go to Shantikunj, Haridwar, you would see a message written in large fonts requesting people not to touch feet or bow, instead to fold hands in a namaskar. In their opinion, there is humility, modesty and courtesy in that posture. In fact, the other person gets to see you in full. Well, it helps, but only partially. Back and spine do get erect, but what about neck? The head is still hanging low.
In a recent article in Desh, Subarna Basu blames the mobile phones for this awkward posture (1). In fact, numerous stories appear regularly in print media of youth colliding with animals or other people, or meeting an accident while reading or sending messages. I do not think so. Of course, mobiles have contributed to this practice and made the condition worse. However, one should remember that this way of walking was quite common long before mobile phones entered our lives and society. In fact, mobiles have given us an excuse to keep our heads low. Now we have an excuse in the form of sending or reading message, playing games, or just fiddle with it, anything to avoid eye contact with strangers or may be with familiar people.
Moving around like a feeble soul while one has a rich heritage and legacy is like living in rags and tatters with billions deposited in bank account. Absorbed in these thoughts, suddenly I stopped walking and noticed that my own head had started dropping, while my hand had started moving to take out the mobile. Was I looking for an excuse? I left the mobile in the pocket and walked straight.
1- Where head is low (নত যেথা শির), writer: Subarna Basu, Desh 17 May 2016, page 22.