In the old normal, pre Covid 19 days, when my social interactions were more intense, and my conversations more frequent, I would hear the word “simple” ever so often and in various contexts too, and therefore I decided it was worthy of a chinta.
“Your cousin is sooo simple”, said an acquaintance to me, referring to a highly educated relative of mine who is rather well placed in a biotech company in the East Coast of the US. “Simple”? I disagreed. She was very intelligent and capable, not to mention arrogant and opinionated.
Later I realised it was not her mind or her personality that was being discussed, but her fashion sense. She wore little make up and outfitted in subdued colours, and even though she was in no way humble or modest, she was considered simple by appearance.
But then again, young girls who were dressed up to the nines, who flew to India to shop for clothes and jewellery, and who purchased expensive bags and shoes too were simple. How come? That was the marriage market lingo, where the productswere presented in the best possible finery in the hopes of securing a wealthy scion.
The underlying message was, the expectation that the girls would be married off and ‘kept’ in a‘high standard’ and that there would be no questions asked about the scions’ past dalliances, habits, or character. Further, that the girls were amenable to any demand of their future in-laws; charmingly simple by arrangement.
Whilst on the topic of marriage market, simple was the only antithesis of chalaak, and the latter was not a desirable quality, no, no, no. It was essential for some wives to vehemently and purposefully declare their simplicity to avert any talk of their complicity in family or inheritance disputes.
“Ami asholeonek simple, ektukombujhi” and “Simple eethaka best” were the standard overused phrases, imparting the meaning that one shared no responsibility whatsoever in the misunderstandings or that one was too innocent to comprehend the nasty goings-on. It was also an effective ploy to avoid answering any unpleasant questions; simple to be absolved.
There was more. Simple was a great defence for prying and probing, and a mechanism for projection and deflecting attention away from one’s own problems and onto others. Simple people, unable to confront their own insecurities and unhappiness and self - loathing, but all too able to talk and spread rumours about others, would very conveniently ask rather provocative questions of their intended targets.
The plan was to ignite an outburst. Then, take matters to well -known members of society and ask for bichaar. “Arre, all I asked was a simple question, and so and so reacted so much…..what is wrong with her?” Simple as a bait.
Sadly, that is not the end of naivety. Often the word itself was an adjective used to mask a darker meaning. “She is very simple, na?” without making any eye contact was commonly uttered to describe someone as being anything but.
Those listening had three choices, they could either brazenly disagree, or not respond at all, or concur and thereby give a reassurance that the real meaning was understood and agreed upon. “Thikbolecho, oneeek simple…or motonmanush hoy na”, was when eye contact resumed and knowing smiles were exchanged; simple as a metaphor.
What else? Hmmmm. I am trying to recall. If you can add any more to what I have penned down, please do share. There must be more connotations of simple out there that I missed. Meanwhile I am sure many will be vexed by my overtly complicated interpretations of their covertly simple behaviour. Simple as an irritant. Wink!
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.