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I have come to realize that one of the measures of a civilization is to see how often the people of a particular society scold each other. The more they scold each other, the more likely they are to be in a less refined society.

“Gali” – the Nepali equivalent for scolding is a commonly used weapon in our culture. We use (read overuse) it everywhere. Sadly, it is rampant even in the most unlikely places like hospitals where the only thing people need to hear is compassionate words said in sympathetic ways. But not in India! We are so used to being scolded in hospitals that our bodies actually take it as a form of therapy. I have heard about some women being scolded in the labour room as if their excruciating travail was not bad enough. The funniest part of such cases is that sometimes they will tell you that scolding triggers the process of labour, thus helping the women. What backward logic!

If hospitals don’t spare you, who will? In my young days, I used to shudder to go to any government office as the prospect of facing some bad-mouthed bureaucrats or ill-tempered babuni used to trigger nightmarish feelings deep within. And when we would coax the peons (some of them would be as equally unapproachable as their boastful bosses) to check the ‘file’ if it was still there at their bosses’ desks they would say, “Hundaina, budo/budiya ley marchha” (I can’t do that. My boss will kill me).

Police scolding drivers, teachers scolding students, senior police officers scolding their juniors, bosses scolding their subordinates, heads of school scolding their staffs, supervisors scolding construction labourers, truck-drivers scolding their cleaner boys (handy-boys as they are traditionally called in this part of the world), customers in tea shops scolding chotus (under-aged waiters), shoppers quarrelling with shopkeepers- our country is filled with busy scolders. Scolding moves downward in the hierarchy in any government set-up. In other words, the ‘scolding right’ is always with the one who holds the greater authority. Sometimes, it is reversed, but very rarely without serious consequences. Imagine a taxi driver mustering courage to tell off the traffic police – the consequences are not hard to imagine.

The rudest scolding Indians exchange is in television debates and parliament. The people who speak in these places are supposedly the most refined citizens of the country. They are, in many ways, the most privileged people - many of whom have had exposure to the best schools and universities. However, when they spy a microphone, they can’t help giving a piece of their mind in the most caustic manner possible. Sometimes they seem so angry and their words so acerbic, saying that they are spewing venom sounds too tame an expression. We have seen our fellow-Indians whether Oxford educated journalists or former professors at Harvard– as soon as they come back to India, they leave behind their Oxonian or Harvardian sophistication.

Jiwan Rai

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