Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The woodpecker drums on a tree to carry a certain message. The songbird sings to advertise his charms to the female and to say ‘Keep out, this is my territory’ to other males. Some animals use visual signals such as brighter breeding attire to pass signals. Many animals including dogs and cats and insects rely on chemical signals for awareness. Ants maintain a precise trail using chemicals for those ants following behind to know the path. A bee will tell another bee of a new food source by a special dance in which the degree to which she waggles her abdomen indicates the distance of the food supply and the direction in which she faces indicates the direction of the source.

There are 4 types of communication mainly in nature– audio, visual, chemical and tactile. I’m just studying them in an effort to understand what kind of communication is practiced among the YECCI - young, educated, college going, city based Indian. Because recently I gave out all the signals wrong in a social situation involving a number of this species, thus embarrassing my young.

Here I was at dinner along with my two daughters and a family with whom we were just getting acquainted. Among them was a young college going girl, a member of the YECCI.

Having been indoctrinated by my parents and Dale Carnegie to make polite conversation, I made her comfortable with a number of interested questions about herself - about her course, college, canteen, friends, classes, mode of transport etc. Which she answered in short sentences in between concentrating intensely on her plate. Obviously she was a very focused person, doing one thing at a time, which I didn’t quite realize then. I must have been disturbing her rhythm. And she was too polite to say so.

I asked ‘Do you have any hobbies?’ That seemed to put the lid on social gaucheness as far as my daughters were concerned.
‘Ma, what a question to ask?’
‘Why, what’s wrong with that?’
‘No one has any hobbies any more. ‘

Obviously, hidden reference to an older era, when we would automatically answer ‘stamp collecting’ to this question even if the stamps didn’t cover one page and were safely hidden in a drawer out of sight for years.
What with ‘Friends’ and messaging and chatting and movies and malls I suppose there is not much time left for ‘hobbies’ these days.

By circumspectly avoiding the ‘What is your good name? ’ and ‘My, you’ve grown so much since I last saw you’ bit which was the bane of my generation, I thought I was cool and more with it. Sadly, not at all. There are just different pitfalls into which parents can painfully fall into. The pain could be on either side.

My nephew had the last word. ‘ponnama, saaptoma, vanthoma – can’t you do just that? ‘ instead of all these inane questions. Which could roughly translate into veni, I ate, vidi .

In nature it is not unusual for individuals of one species to master the signals given by those of a different species. And I hope to do soon.

On zine5 on 26th Feb, 2008
I actually did some research for this one .


Malathi said...

I think we as parents indulge our kids to the point that they are allowed to give the impression of being rude, uncommunicative and impolite. They may not necessarily be all of those things, but if they are not expected to learn and extend basic, socially-acceptable courtesies then that is the image they unknowingly or unwittingly project.

I notice that kids these days are expected to conduct lively debates on stage, make a good impression at interviews, bedazzle the ones who court them by engaing in intelligent small-talk. But perhaps to give them a break from all these "meaningful" pursuits and accomplishments, they are allowed to sulk through social scenes and pout to their parents' friends and relatives (i.e., the people of a different generation who likely don't have a direct influence on the younger ones' goals and aspirations). Perhaps this lapse in social etiquette is not a crime and is only a practical inevitability to the myriad pressures the younger generation otherwise has to face, but it just makes the world a little less cheery and a little less interesting.

kallu said...

Well said, Malathi about all that is expected of our children. And, in this 'be-your-own-self' age, we really don't push for our kids to interact that much. We want it to happen naturally. And we let go when it doesn't.
Etiquette is changing. Kids say 'HI" to their lecturers even in India, sometimes which we wouldn't have dreamt of.

Maddy said...

i have always wondered about this -what is your good name thing. how did it originate? in malayalam and tamil we go straight with the question 'what is your name'. i have not heard any englishmen using that 'good'...

kallu said...

Still trying to faze this one in Inglish.
Must have its origins in some Indian language.