Kuldip Dhiman says how sometimes the best of intentions could be totally misunderstood
IT IS SAID WHEN in Rome do as the Romans do. But having no great regard for received wisdom, I have always done the opposite, and got myself in trouble quite often.
At my favourite bookstore, one day, I spotted a book titled: How to Treat a Lady. After reading it, I was greatly impressed by what the author was suggesting. Women have been treated shabbily through the centuries, and continue to be ill- treated even today. Men have forgotten their manners. Had I left it at that, I would have saved myself a lot of heartburn, but I decided to be kind and courteous to women from then on. I would practise what someone else had preached.
Since I work in an office dominated by women, I decided that charity should begin at work. The next day, I made sure I was the first one to be at work. When a woman colleague of mine entered the room, I rose to greet her. Far from acknowledging my gesture, she walked past as if she hadn't noticed me. "Good morning, dear Lady," I said.
"Good morning. Have you forgotten my name? And I am not 'your' dear lady," she said with a hint of annoyance. I didn't have the courage to go further, and I sank in my chair. In a while another woman colleague arrived, and I rose once again.
"Hi!!!" she said and surged ahead. "Are you going someplace?" Then the third arrived, and then the fourth, but none noticed anything. It would be wrong to say that they failed to notice anything. They sure did notice, but they drew wrong conclusions from my actions. When I rose, one of them thought I had probably dropped something, the other felt I rose to take something out of my pocket, yet another one felt I was about to leave, and the fourth one felt I was stretching myself. Not their fault, they were not used to courtesy.
Taken aback a little, I decided to go out for a while. As I walked towards the door, I saw another girl approach. In a true chivalrous fashion, I opened the door for her. She said hi and whizzed past, slamming the door in my face.
Now, what I wanted most was a cup of tea. At the canteen counter I saw another woman colleague from the reporting section. I greeted her, and she asked me to join her. I said to myself, "Here at last, is a lady." We had sandwiches and tea, and, of course, talked about what was happening around us. At the end of the session I decided to pay for the tea and snacks. But before I could take my wallet out, the girl paid her part of the bill, and left in a hurry. "Got to dash off. I am late for the interview."
As I walked back to my department, I decided to take a detour and say hi to our receptionist, a pretty young girl with a disarming smile. After greeting her and exchanging pleasantries, I thought of making her day.
"That's a nice dress you are wearing, Ipsita." She suddenly became conscious of herself, turned around very tactfully to see if her dress was all right. Although she was chatting with me gloriously only a few minutes ago, she suddenly became quiet. The silence and her stern look made me quite uncomfortable. I knew it was time to move.
The rest of the day I was in low spirits. But on my way home the gentleman in me was again beginning to raise his ugly head. As I turned the ignition of my car, I saw another one of my colleagues walk past. Since she lived very close to where I live, I got out and offered to drop her home.
"No, I will take a bus." And before I could say anything, she just disappeared. Something in me told me I had made another 'enemy'. A friend of mine who was watching all this came up to me and said, "Flirting?"
"No, just trying to be nice."
"Come of it."
Later, at a pedestrian crossing, I saw a few men and a number of women waiting to cross the road. I slowed down, and then stopped to let them pass. The men crossed the road in an instant, but the girls didn't. I made a gesture with my hands, telling them to cross the road. They all giggled suspiciously, and turned their backs on me. I began to sense trouble, and wisely surged ahead.
Home sweet home. And mother, sweet mother. I knew here was a 'genuine' lady. The most genuine of all. As I slipped into a comfortable dress, she brought tea and snacks. "Thank you, biji."
"What are you thanking me for?"
"For the tea."
"What is the world coming to," she said expressing her annoyance. "A son is thanking his mother for tea! Hey Ram!"
"But, biji . . . ."
"Shut up and have your tea."
I did shut up. After having my tea, I said, "Biji, the tea was excellent."
She gave me a puzzled look. "What . . . . it wasn't good?"
"No, I mean it was excellent."
"Then don't mention it. Silly boy." Later when she served dinner, I really wanted to compliment her on her excellent dishes, but saner sense prevailed. Since one of the dishes was made by my sister, I decided to say something nice to her. Being younger, she would appreciate.
"Nice, kheer, Mona."
"Now look here," she said, "if it is bad, say so. Don't try to patronise me."
That was the last straw. The last blow that knocked out the gentleman — the intruder — in me. I got hold of that book and chucked it into the dustbin.
The next day, there was some problem with my car and I had to take the bus. It was the rush hour, but luckily I found a seat. After a while I saw a group of girls standing in the passage. I almost rose to give them my seat, but didn't. I was feeling a bit guilty, and I tried to hide my embarrassment by pretending to read the newspaper. All the while I was conscious of three or four pairs of eyes looking down upon me.
"Are all the gentlemen dead, or what?" One of them said to the other. Terribly embarrassed, I rose, and sheepishly slid past them to the back door.