A space odyssey

This has nothing in common with the famous Clarke novel and any resemblance is entirely your figment of imagination.

I suffer from what I call a space-o-phobia, which starts by me being uncomfortable at the beginning, quickly feeling miserable and ultimately in a rage, when my personal space is violated, ah that is a strong word, let me say, invaded by general junta.

We, Indians don’t understand the concept of space- literally or figuratively. Let me give you some everyday examples.

There are always people at the railway station, and airports and temples and parks and other places of common interest in India, who love to sit heavily down so close to you that you can tell what they ate last summer, and if you had a bio-sensor, you could tell their blood pressure by the stench of sweat. Sometimes they lean over you to reach the dustbin, ugh, I mean, it is ok you did not take a bath, or even that you consumed garlic bread, but the bench is 5 ft long and there are only three people sitting and mathematically we can leave at least 6 inches between when I end and where you begin. But they don’t get it even when you make the inward move-meant-to-move-away to avoid the edge of the bag they are holding on their knees, which is digging into my thighs without permission. And then a finger rummages inside a nostril, comes out and wipes itself on the bag, and I quickly get up and leave, running away from the invisible germs chasing me.

Then of course, our famous q culture, and we are clueless, ruthless and queue-less around it. In a bus q (which I haven’t tried for decades now), or an airport q (the most recent encounter) or a q in a washroom or a q to exit from a plane, the people behind stick to me actually, all their protruding parts trying to fit seamlessly into me and me moving forward instinctively only to be dissuaded by the vast bottom and the backpack of the person in front. Saying “excuse me” believing that it will miraculously create space in the mass of humanity, fails. My awkward motion to create some gap, only results in others moving forward to occupy all the space available, quite like the definition of gaseous material, which by the way, is available in abundance in all such locations, and you feel suffocated. No, keep your bosom away, pls and then being hit by the whack of the backpack being slung over the shoulder, or a boot stepping on my toe and my screams drowned in the giggles of the uncaring children around- don’t you have eyes at the back of your head, or a mouth that can mouth sorry! By the time I reach home, I feel quite like having passed through a sugarcane juicer.

I sometimes wish someone should invent a space-ial invisible magnetic wall around me, so as soon as an ass tries to come within the no-man’s-land, they get a shock of their lives and are forced to back off. I mean I do have a right to my personal space- including my bruised toe, and any attempt invasion should be legally prohibited. Maybe there can be a restraining order by default, nobody comes within 1 ft of another human being. Look at Norway, country with basic minimal set of people and abundance of personal space.

The third kind who make a space-tacle of themselves is the nosey public- typically the elderly auntie whose only interest in life is to ensure they get to see all the dirty linen before it is washed. They have to know when is x getting married, and when are y having their kid (with graphic details), what is my salary, where do I live, who ran away with whom and why am my travelling and more. And that is after I am trying to hide behind the large spectacles having suddenly developed an wild interest in a book, or pretending to be asleep and only responding in monosyllables. They would size me up and down and come to conclusion about how cheap my clothes are and what parlour I go to, and that my Gucci watch is a fake, quite like the robot reading my vital statistics – “Caucasian female, ht 160 cm…”, in that monotonous intonation. They are also the ones who always know why India played badly in the last match, or what Trump should do differently, what is Kareena doing these days and they insist on giving me all the gyan, uninvited and unwelcome. Come on, give me some space! Oh, why didn’t God say, Let there be space! I need air!

Another group of people who I find utterly cringeworthy are the ones who talk extra loud on the phone or listen to the infamous videos on speaker in public places and then laugh even louder. Gone are the days when you needed to shout on the phone. If you have detective instincts, you will soon know what goods the fellow sells and at what rate, why his son failed in exams, his wife is cooking brinjals tonight and that he loves Kapil jokes. I am really trying hard to respect your privacy; now do I need to wear earphones in order to avoid hearing you. I mean the damn thing was invented so you could listen to your shit while I listened to mine and the waves don’t cross each other’s path and mutual interference could be avoided. I am totally disinterested in the menu of the last wedding you attended or what is the latest in the soap- Nagiin.

Ah, at such times, I so prefer the younger generation, who with their headphones and heads down into their mobiles are fully occupied in a room full of strangers or family and our communication is limited to “food?” “yeah” and “all good?”. Likes are the most impersonal means of communication, you declare your presence and leave it at that, comments are good too, you can choose to respond if and when you want. And since people do not get their fingers up their noses on media, it is quite tolerable.  Sometimes cyber space is best crafted to get away and really get some space! I mean, I have heard from solid sources that giving “the look” makes people respect your space, but whenever I have tried that, it fails miserably and I normally get worse looks or the finger or a blasphemy back. That takes me into an introspective mode trying to determine why my looks don’t kill with a laser beam! Would getting into my shell work? Or do I need a space suit suitable for my space?

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How to act smart and impress people – by Jhil Velli thi

His eyes had a glazed look. He looked up for a few moments. Then stared down at his fried rice intently. His gaze has the perplexity of the philosopher who was trying to figure out the recipe. I wondered – what happened? He looked at me like I had asked the most innocuous question pertaining to the existence of the universe. And then looked back defiantly at the rice. All ok-?- I was beginning to get worried. No, he nodded the Indian no. and finally said – I am thinking. Wow, like wow. The great man is thinking. His grey cells are working. And what, prey, I asked, frustrated, are you thinking? After a poignant pause, he deigned to look up from the fried rice puzzle, and muttered, I will tell you when I have thought. Man, was I impressed!

And then the corn went pop in my mind, this is a clear-cut technique about how to act smart and impress people. Not all mortals can do it. His utterance with the right pauses and at the right time, made me wonder whether he was thinking of how the stars aligned to have fried rice find its way to his stomach. Now, if anyone ever asked me what I was thinking, I would have the most idiotic mundane reply like what was the name of the actor in that bad last movie we saw, see how common place, nothing impressive at all about it.

Acting smart is about saying the unexpected thing at the unexpected time, not the expected normal response. And then the general feeling is- what a guy (or gal), he thinks out of the box. – The question about where and which box we are talking about somehow is never considered and questioned. Are we all living within this invisible box? The person who thinks out of the box, probably crossed that sacred boundary and thought something, that is a big deal, whatever the hell he thought is completely irrelevant.

Today I am going to tell the world about the art to act smart and impress people, have had decades of practice. I will give you all the tips and knowledge and will not even charge for it. Just make sure you adopt these great innovative ideas in your daily life.

  • Look the part, to act the right part. You have to wear spectacles, the large nerdy round ones. With thick lenses, that makes your eyes look quite like an owl’s. Your hair should be plastered in oil (or you can go bald, the smartest ones are believed to be bald. The clothes you should wear have to be
    1. Out of fashion
    2. Shabby, maybe even torn so people think you are so nerdy you have no idea what you are wearing.
    3. Loose so you look hopelessly shapeless.
    4. Colours you wouldn’t want to look dead in.
    5. A viable alternative- to all of the above is to wear a formal suit in summers when outdoors like on a beach. And glares when indoors. That does the trick too.

 What is the first thought that comes to your mind when you see such a person – this guy must be a genius or someone important. Exactly, that is a feeling you need to be able to generate. The finale effect can be created with odourant that reminds people of rotten apples or maybe dead rats.

(There is this another related species, round face, curly hair, big round stomach, black designer saree, big bindi, big and bold matching jewellery (even temples around the neck), and a strong perfumed attitude, that marks the arrival of the bong pseudo-intellectual- saw several while watching a Bong play, and they all fitted to the T)

  • Never answer a question directly. If asked even the time, you should sigh, look up and down as if wondering about space time travel and NASA, take down your spectacles and clean then with your dirty clothes, wear them again and then say with a resigned look, the times are really bad, my son. The moment has gone, the microsecond when you asked the question is lost in the eon and now after 1/ 23467th eon, do you think that time will come back again, in that fraction you could have achieved so much. Trust me, though the poor fellow may wonder why he ever spoke to you, he will confidently tell the rest of the world, what a guy, his thoughts are out of the world and will send some of his smarter enemies your way. But never, never give a direct response.
  • In a meeting, you can choose an article in the room to focus on, which can be a flower vase, or the aforementioned fried rice plate or maybe your handkerchief. Or maybe close your eyes with a weary look. Let everyone around talk. And in between a heated discussion and a flurry of emotions, suddenly pipe up loud enough- what if ? everyone will stop and look at you. Don’t complete your sentence and go back to the tranced state of detailed examination of the handkerchief. After a while people will go back to their discussion. After five minutes repeat yourself. And after about 5 times of doing this frustrating everyone out of their wits, finally say- what if we now took a break? The brain cells are heating up and the solution is right there, but I can see it only after gulping the coffee. They will all want to hit you, but dare not, in case you do pop out the genius answer of the year, post coffee.
  • Learn some very relevant phrases. Remember that the right phrase at the right time can make a world’s difference between whether you are perceived as a fool or a smart ass.
    1. Do you mean to say that…
    2. I feel what you are saying makes sense but…
    3. There is a saying that explains it all, just that it is eluding me…
    4. Under the given circumstances, can u say with authority that…
    5. My experience of past 20 years says that…
    6. Hmmmm
    7. (sigh) hmmmm
    8. (laugh) hmmmm
    9. (Smirk) hmmmm
    10. (snort) hmmmm

This hmmmm is a universally understood language depicting a range of emotions- based on the tone and can convey almost anything from – “are you dumb”, to “this is perfect”. This always confuses and when you have successfully confused people around you, they will think you are a direct disciple of Einstein.

  • The last rule, act asshole class confident. If nothing else works, this will. When you walk in, look like you own the place. Signalling people with the flick of finger or a raised eyebrow indicates best in class. Don’t introduce yourself, assume people know you and if they don’t, it is their loss. “You don’t know me” with an incredulous look does wonders. You can follow it with “who is the owner of this godforsaken dump?” If it is a quiet place, shout loudly – maybe at the receptionist. Everyone is sure to notice and wonder who this VIP is. Or if this is too tough, just be downright rude. Profanities can be used to sprinkle flavours. Only mango people are humble and respectful.

Well, if you can’t do any of this, maybe you really aren’t smart, or you can’t act, or just not born to be a class apart. If you are not a smart ass, I guess you are just a dumb ass.