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Monday, 13 April 2009

Approaching Frowns

"A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles."-- Washington Irving In India, I have noticed that people, especially writers will never smile unless they want to interview you. They are compatible only in books, where they will take you through strange cities, make you experience the most exotic places, stir you with their romantic adventures and amuse you with their rib tickling tales but meet them face-to-face, and you will be lucky if you even get a smile. On social networks you will get smiles, hugs, gifts and even kisses from the friends whom you have never ever met, but offline? Meet them randomly and see them squirm. Smile is reserved only for those who are close friends. In a group of good writers, if you are shy then you will be a lone ranger. Unless, of course, if you are a successful writer or one with great looks! But, is smile an expensive commodity only in India? During my recent visit to China, my smile froze on Chinese plastered face, nobody was smiling, neither anyone at the customs nor at the immigration office - same reason- I was a stranger who had neither great looks nor any achievements to boast about, although, like Indians, Chinese too, smile for more reasons than Americans. A smile can mean the person is embarrassed, trying to be helpful, curious, happy or friendly. In the middle of an argument, it may mean that it is nothing personal. When all else fails, their smile shows you have no ill feelings and can work wonders in getting better service. The smile is the near universal gesture of friendliness, and in America, its meaning is usually clear. While in America, everywhere I went, be it supermarket, mall or public library, I found every American smiling and wishing me the hour of the day. But, there too, Asian reserved this smiling gesture for informal occasions, and smiling while being formally introduced was considered disrespectful. In Spain, where I lived for several years, smiling faces surrounded me everywhere. It comes natural to them, they don’t stare, but smile instead. They are so friendly, that many times they will come across the street to greet you with a peck on your cheek. In Spain, I learnt to smile at every stranger, whenever there was an eye contact. But now, I am back in Mumbai. When I see cold eyes, tight closed lips, I am confused. I am learning that I can only return a smile for a smile, in an elitist society, it will be misunderstood.

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