Have you ever, while reading a newspaper, or standing in a line in a store, had that eerie feeling that a curious face is peering over your shoulder, so uncomfortably close that you can almost feel its breath wafting across your shrinking body? Guess what? Your personal space has just been invaded by bad breath and body odour, and that too by an entity that is not even aware that it is trespassing!
The queue system can be quite harrowing. You stand in a line along with myriad others, holding a basket filled with the bare necessities, and just as you get to the front of the line, comes a cheeky arm over your shoulder, and hey presto, there appears a basket on the counter, as cheeky as its owner. I always object, but often, a sheepish smile with a “Please, Madam, only two items!” accompanied by the aforesaid body odour makes me retreat in haste.
A moving queue is even worse, especially when you are going into a movie theatre, or climbing up a flight of stairs. The swell of the crowd carries you along, as you are hemmed in, with umbrella handles, sharp edged handbags, elbows at 90 degrees [have you ever realized that even the fattest of arms have bony elbows?], and of course, the ubiquitous smell of faded jasmine flowers and sickly sweet deodorants!
Traffic jams are the order of the day! At busy signals, vehicles jostle for space, even as they stand, bumper to bumper. There is never any personal space on an Indian road, as impatient drivers begin to honk even before the signal turns green. It is as though they have a personal race they have to win, at all costs!
I once remember going on an international flight to Dubai, where the man sitting next to me was hugely obese. Not that he could be blamed for his size, because some folks are just made that way, but since he bulged out in every direction possible, I found myself cowering in the large space that made up his armpit! [Not the pleasantest of experiences, I can assure you!] Luckily, the air hostess was able to shift me to another seat, and for the rest of the flight, the gentleman could spread himself out liberally! And thankfully, so could I!
The worst kind of invasion of privacy is, however, when people stare at you with beady eyes, wondering which planet you come from, followed by nosy questions. This happens when one is travelling by train, when hours and hours stretch before you, and the fact that you are busy with a book, seems not enough of an excuse to stop the chatter around you. “Are you married?” Your nod provokes the next question. “How many children?” The fact that you have a solitary offspring who “shines like a good deed in a naughty world” does not appease their avid curiosity. “Why did you stop at one?”is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You look down your snub nose with disdain as best as you can, and burrow more deeply into your book.
The electronic world brims over with invasion of private space... hackers, paedophiles, sex offenders, spurned lovers et al! Rapists add a dreadful dimension, as perceived in the heinous cases in the recent past. With Big Brother spying openly on countries, this invasion has taken on international tones!
Would going into outer space, or Mars, give us more elbow space, I wonder!
New Indian Express
October 17th 2013