In this race called life, we’ve forgotten something very important. Think. Think harder! Can’t remember? There, that proves my point. Now take a deep breath. Here’s a hint — it’s the longest word. Still can’t guess? It’s ‘smiles’ — goes ‘miles’ after it starts. Remember the last time you smiled? There you go, now you’re smiling. Thank God!
Smile — this more than a mile-long thing is the smallest distance between two people. It brings down hurdles, connects individuals, beckons harmony, ends antagonism, banishes acrimony and works as an ambassador of goodwill. It is hard to ignore someone whose lips crease into a warm, sunny smile that conjures the image of the great Mona Lisa in a jiffy. Yet, an ill-timed smile or an improper smirk could spell disaster with many, the likes of toffee-nosed principals, snooty teachers, strict fathers, sassy friends, snobbish mothers-inlaw, and unsophisticated, neorich neighbours particularly. I remember when smiling was a taboo during the morning assembly at school, something that teachers never tolerated. I recall the day I got into trouble for smiling at my classmate, even if only for a brief moment, while the assembly was in progress.
The punishment was a knuckle-breaking task to write “I will not smile”, which put me off smiling for a long time.
I have never understood why teachers dislike smiling students. Perhaps, they believe a smile to be a sign of distraction. “Stop grinning like a jackass, you fool!” my high-school mathematics teacher, a fiery woman, Mrs Manju Sehgal, would warn me persistently. To her, a toothy, shiny grin was akin to making a charade of the digits and numbers that ought to be looked upon with admiration and respect. So, when her class was in progress, there was an embargo on smiling, even out of the contentment of cracking the ‘x-y’ code of tough algebraic equations or solving a profit-and-loss problem.
Many authoritarian fathers from the good old days, I’m told, detest the smiling countenances of their children. What a pity! In my case, it’s my mother who has this authority. “What’s there to smile all the time?” is a popular one-liner in her lexicon. Many friendships in my observation turn sour because of a miscalculated grin. An innocent smile in the middle of a conversation is construed as cynicism and show of contempt.
“Flashing a smile at the nextdoor neighbours is fraught with risk,” my friend shared with me in secret after an acidic incident with a new neighbour who happened to be an affiliate of the grumpy brigade. Oblivious of the man’s temperament and eager to be friendly, my friend kept smiling at him, only to get sinister stares in response. “Too much smiling can get innocent, docile, bubbly daughters-in-law into big trouble,” wrote an erudite psychologist in her thesis “Simple Ways to Manage the Mother-in-law-daughter-in-law War”, for “snooty, villainous mothers-in-law get along better with their cantankerous lot”. Now, give me a smile.