All in the eyes

By Isheeta Sanghi

Picture by Antonio Milena - Wiki Commons

Picture by Antonio Milena - Wiki Commons

Staring – isn’t it something that we can all agree Indians know how to do best? When you’re a kid, you feel it and you think it’s weird, but you get along. When you become a young adult and you feel other people’s eyes on you, for no apparent reason, you get irritated and want to yell “What the heck are you staring at?” When you get to the point in life where you realize you simply cannot teach an old dog new tricks, you learn to try and meditate when people stare, or try to completely disregard the fact that they are even alive and looking at you.

I don’t stare at people, so when people stare at me, I find it highly offensive and my blood pressure reaches levels it probably shouldn’t reach. I hate when nosey in-laws (in particular) ask questions that I am uncomfortable answering, because I don’t ask those questions, not only because I don’t care, but also because I have no room for that information in my head. I’ve got enough going on in my own life for me to process and analyze what other people are doing or not doing or buying or not buying.

I hate when trash pickers go through my trash because I don’t go through anyone’s trash, and I feel that on some level it is an invasion of privacy. When you throw something in the trash in the US you know that it’ll end up in some recycling plant somewhere and that’ll be the end of it. But in India someone will go through your trash and if you have even a diminutive amount of cream in a bottle, they’ll take it and use it. And please don’t get me wrong, I wish there was less poverty in the world, and I wish I could help, but for the love of God, please don’t go through my stuff, even if it is my trash, it’s just plain creepy.

I also hate when Indian men (in particular) stare at me because I’m showing off about a quarter of my leg, because hey, let’s be honest unless John Abraham is walking down the “street”, Lord knows, I’m not looking at any Indian man. On top of that, I’m wearing more clothes in order to avoid being stared at as is, that I find it completely ridiculous that they stare, because you’re trying your hardest to cover up.

I recently noticed, however, that it’s not only this particular type of staring that exists in India.There’s a totally separate form of eye etiquette that people follow when they drive. A heavy stare from someone driving a “big” car, to a cab driver driving some bashed up yellow licence-plated vehicle can do magical things. When the stop sign isn’t working (and even when it is) eyes become a form of traffic policing.

People will look at each other and inch forward, and based on the type of stare you get back, you move, or, you don’t. Note also, that none of the staring is nice staring. In the US people usually acknowledge one another, and offer the other to go first, waving a friendly smile while they’re at it. Here, if you tried that, you’d be in the same place, probably forever, because friendliness in India, for the most part, is actually a form of vulnerability and when people think you are vulnerable, they will take you for a ride.

There are also those who don’t use their eyes, as a form of traffic policing. These are the people who simply will not look at you and will keep going, so that they have the right of way. This seems to be the latest trend with many drivers, and it’s a miracle that the number of potential accidents remains only potential.

It’s funny how things of India always seem to rest on that fine line between ridiculously insane, and absolutely hilarious. The driving gets to everyone, it gets to the newcomers, and it gets to people who have been here for years, and there are days when you can make light of things and laugh, but there are days where you just wish that with the flick of a wand you could organize all the cars in neat tidy lanes, have the trucks in one, motorcycles in one, autos in one, bullock carts, cows the occasional camel or elephant, and bicycles in another, and a separate lane for all the cars. But seeing as how the wand thing isn’t likely in this lifetime, I guess the best bet is to practice your best heavy stare, and hope to get safely to your end destination.

4 thoughts on “All in the eyes

  1. Archana

    Really enjoyed the read. Interesting point of view. Its all a matter of getting used to it and adjusting to all situations.


  2. Basav B

    Although this write up would get some laughs i strongly believe that its all in the head. A smile in India would also get you a smile and sometimes more than the smile. Its only the urban so called “modern” Indians who behave indifferently when they see Indians. May be its just how we look or dress up but if you observe we always are courteous to the white people or good looking people. But one thing i hate about US big time is that the people are so lonely and they just cant struggle. If a little bit goes wrong in life they lose their mind and go crazy. I wish the people in US were not so lonely and could share their day to day problems, feelings with someone. And i also hate the superficial talk and courtesy of Americans. I dont understand why should i say hi or howdy to a total stranger on the road. I really dont care!


  3. Expat female in India

    A smile in India does NOT always get you a smile. Sometimes it gets you the same blank stare – and sometimes, if you’re a woman, that smile becomes the excuse for intrusive behaviour from a man.



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