People Watching…

I was waiting for a friend a few days ago at a mall. It was a typical Sunday afternoon, with families of all shapes and sizes thronging the mall and seemingly blissful in the midst of all that chaos.

It was surprising how each group formed its own bubble, oblivious to everyone else around them.

There were contests happening on the ground floor, with miked anchors who were shouting on the top of their voices. There were “talent” shows and teens and adults alike participated, without any shame or hesitation. They danced, sang and did thumkas a Bollywood film star would be proud of. It reminded of what a friend had recently said – People are willing to do anything if they know they’ll be heard.

There were kiddie-quizzes going on for geniuses and I was surprised at parents pushing their kids into the competition where there was no uniformity or equal competition.

Couples wandered around, hand-in-hand, making me realize that we still might be a traditional country and perhaps won’t grow beyond that, but in little ways, things are changing. Even the most traditional couple, dating or married, held hands when they walked – a gesture that is completely absent in the generation before us. Our parents and grandparents would have shuddered at the thought of any physical contact with their significant others in such a public place.

There were Muslim girls, who were wearing their veils but still wandered around with their boyfriends, making a point that nothing can ever really stop love. A friend of mine who took the veil a long time ago said that even through the veil you recognize each other… the way one moves, gestures and talks. Identities can never really be hidden, she said, when I was arguing that her identity was submerged in the veil. Looking at the young girl on Sunday, I realized perhaps my friend was right.

Of course, then there were the guys watching the girls. The girls primping in front of the boys. There was also a display of the world’s top monuments – a part of a design some ad man had done to promote himself. It was quite impressive, even if the Leaning Tower of Pisa wasn’t exactly leaning. People could walk through the Great Wall of China and take photos, which nearly everyone did on their cellphones.

I guess the advent of the cell phone has changed much in the Indian mindsets. Finally, there is some personal space people can vanish into. They can choose the movies they want to watch, have private conversations without the entire family snooping, personalize that little bit of space in a manner they can never do in their lives.

I guess we are progressing… if you can call Indian women who have never worn anything but saris, wearing jeans or salwars are their husbands’ insistence. The mindsets are changing perhaps… miniscule steps… hand-holding… but it is step, nevertheless. In a country the size of India, change always appears in such miniscule steps. Something to do with the quantity and the mass of the population.


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