The literal and the critical, the interpretive and the creative
So I was at a dawat describing a series of events(where of course I am the main character), and when I finished I noticed that the lady sitting across me had a rather inscrutable expression.
She looked carefully at my face and then rather skeptically asked, “Erm, did it really happen like that”?
My first thought was that she had an objection to me occupying a humorous space. Women are meant to be demure in the social sphere, are they not? Their conversations must revolve around children, servants, in-laws, and ailments; a few might be so bold as to state, “desher ki je hobey”? But it remains the prerogative of the men to narrate experiences to a wide audience.
In all likelihood I had broken a cardinal rule in initiating a humorous confab and she took it upon herself to remind me of my transgression.
Nonetheless, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. I am not going to state she was rude, but I will take a euphemistic tone and say that perhaps she was struggling with how best to process the elements of my account.
If that was the case, then why was she applying her precious critical thinking skills (or lack thereof) to a story I was telling in the midst of a group of people? I thought we attended university classes, talks, seminars, and conferences, read newspapers, magazines and academic journals, and wrote papers to do that. This was hardly a setting for academic perusal.
I was relating an anecdote, and as far as I am concerned, an anecdote is a comical perspective of a real incident, and as far as I am concerned there are exaggerations and embellishments.
Was I supposed to explain all this to her? That we were at a social gathering, and I was merely trying to be entertaining? Did people not attend dawats for fashion, fun, and frolic? Was the gathering not an opportunity for us to banter, joke, quip, pun, display wit, tease, badinage, and recount tales?
If not, silly me. Silly me for imagining that the time and place for story telling was a shared meal amongst family and friends. In my defense, I must state that before I entered the event, I did not place my hand on any Book, or on anyone’s head and take an oath to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
However, my justification will fall on many a deaf year, for there are people who assume that each person they encounter at an invitation has taken a solemn oath to supply facts and figures upon acceptance of becoming part of the congregation.
That is why they return from a dawat or an adda session certain that the ‘information’ they have gleaned from their conversations is tantamount to private consultations with doctors, bankers, lawyers, and accountants.
That is why they repeat verbatim (and a tad bit more) what they hear or overhear others saying.
That is why they relentlessly examine and cross – examine, because their aim is to verify what they wish to believe or to support some preconceived idea.
That is why they subsequently interrogate over random passing comments.
(When confronted with the accusing, “tumi na bolla,”I usually become befuddled because I cannot clearly remember in the midst of conversation and laughter what I said to whom and in what context).
Certain people view social engagements as data collection undertakings. They accept invitations, make inquiries as to whom all are on the guest list, if there is one, then dress up, organize transport, and arrive in the hope of acquiring quantitative and qualitative knowledge over food and drinks. They then set about translating the shuna kotha (both real and imagined) in shotti kotha.
For many years I mistakenly thought that all participants of dawats and addas were present to enjoy themselves. They are not.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveler, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.