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Mind Your Manners
Text by Suma Varughese and Painting by Farhan Mujib
Published: Volume 15, Issue 5, May, 2007

What is the Indian way to perfect deportment? It is to radiate love for other people. When you are naturally selfless, you cannot but help have perfect manners because your focus is unwaveringly on the other's needs, opines Suma Varughese

I was a great Anglophile. A natural outcome, I suppose, of growing up on a diet composed almost entirely of British books - beginning with authors like Enid Blyton and Richmal Compton (the 'William' books) and graduating to novelists like Charlotte Brontė, George Eliot and Charles Dickens. I used to think that the British sense of honour and values could not be beaten. I loved their deprecating sense of humour, their championship of the underdog, their sense of fairness and so much else. From Enid Blyton, I learnt how deplorable it was to be a sneak and for a long while, I lived in an absolute horror of being one. As for their manners, quite frankly they intimidated me - all that to-do with forks and knives - but I respected their impeccable sense of deportment, their 'propahness' and sense of style.

Divine oneness
Then I had a spiritual awakening which made me more aware of our own Vedic philosophy of divine oneness. I learnt of our subtle understanding of dharma and soon, the British philosophy of life lost a major part of its charm, to me at least. Among the things that, for me, got irretrievably deflated was their understanding and interpretation of manners.

Theirs was an externalised approach. They imposed values upon themselves - and were able to follow them due to their strong willpower - which enabled life to be pleasant and civilised. So, they held doors open for women and carried their parcels, they did not make a scene and they stiffened their upper lips. If they did not like someone, their faces did not betray it as they indulged in pleasant, small talk. This is good for I believe that people are spending fortunes these days in going to etiquette classes - but I believe that the Indian way is better.

What is the Indian way? It is to change oneself - to cleanse the being of all that makes you inconsiderate or thoughtless of others. It is to put the welfare of others over your own, not in a self-imposed way, but through the transcendence of ego. It is to radiate love for the other. When you are naturally selfless, you cannot but help have perfect manners, because your focus is unwaveringly on the other's needs.

You will no longer have to mask your disdain for someone or paper over your dislike. You won't have to because you won't feel it. Such a person will be absolutely appropriate in his manners, because it is natural for him to be that way. He will be naturally inclined to help the feeble and the weak. He will put himself out to be of service to the other. He will be extremely attentive at social gatherings, not because he has polished his manners but because he is genuinely interested in you. He wants to know what you are all about, what makes you tick. It matters to him that you are happy, fulfilled and joyful. You can trust him to drop you home after a late night party, not because it is the done thing, but because he wants to.

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