Humour: Who’s afraid of human interaction?
Relationships are tough nuts to crack. They either exhaust us with their intensity or leave us dissatisfied with their shortcomings. Luckily, there are some interactions in life that blend just the right amount of intimacy and distance. Governed by a professional need, they do much more than serve a prosaic purpose. In these digitally driven times, here’s an ode to a few perfectly garnished human interactions.
There’s an old-fashioned intimacy between a lady and her hairdresser, where the two share life stories, dessert recipes and a general world-weariness. I can’t claim to possess such a close bond with my own beautician (alternatives to this antiquated word are welcome, apart from beauty therapist and aesthetician), but I’m freakishly up to date with the lives of her two nephews, her ne’er-do-well sibling and her phone-obsessed favourite client. Every time we meet, the gentle lady hovers over me with menacing objects; I avenge the pain and distress by rattling off a feminist or socialist sermon, usually ending with a denunciation of the latest Bollywood blockbuster she has been praising. Everyone wins.
In the hierarchy of smiles, few are as reassuring as the one you exchange with a familiar bartender. You spend the day struggling over all manner of things, from change for your auto to a suitable school for your child. High up on a bar stool, it feels like you’ve left the baser realities of the world behind. The music is reassuring, the starter is deep-fried and the drink is of the perfect temperature. If you, like me, have spent an obscene amount of time at the same pub throughout your adult life, you won’t even have to spell out your order; the bartender knows. He or she knows close to nothing about your life but understands you the way you want to be understood (to mangle a line by F. Scott Fitzgerald). Cheers to that!
The travel agent
Yes, all you app-downloading, coldly self-sufficient, paragons of humanity – travel agents still exist. And they are why I still travel. Whether it’s a last-minute ticket on a popular train or a complicated change of plans that involves not just rebooking but borderline counselling, the travel agent’s got it. Mine is a family favourite, with full access to information about our madcap wanderings, all usually unscheduled. From plane tickets to Uzbekistan to a train back from Igatpuri, and from hotels in Rajasthan to transits in Europe, the travel agent knows best. The world may have changed in millions of ways the last few decades, but there’s some comfort in the fact that at the other end of my phone is a human who can plot an instant escape for me with minimal involvement on my part. A sacred bond indeed.
I’ve spent more time in doctors’ waiting rooms than is healthy for me. Thankfully, there are friendly compounders who pop their faces out of cramped enclosures, putting you at ease in freezing waiting-rooms. It’s embarrassing to return year after year with the same ailments, but it also builds a strange camaraderie with the clinic’s crew. The posh are privileged at restaurants and entertainment venues; the truly privileged have a contact at the doc’s clinic. This could mean anything from a tip about when the doc will come in that day to a queue-jump using specious logic to placate the other waiters. All’s fair in love and illness.
The vegetable vendor
“Aapko toran lagega?” Ramchandraji, the vegetable vendor, calls in on days before festivals with this disarming question, and who has the callousness to say no? Plying his trade from a nearby street where the postbox meets the kerb, he’s hospitable when you visit. He offers you chai while insisting you call him on the phone for home-delivered veggies; he’s never accepted a tip for this service. His wares are a far cry from the plastic-covered, perfectly-shaped, genuinely scary offerings of fancy food markets. On his wooden cart, withered spinach caresses uncomely tomatoes. The fancy food stores may have their artisanal this and hand-cut that. I’ve got a bespectacled old man with a tattered shirt and a smile, selling lauki as if it were a thing of beauty.
From HT Brunch, November 10, 2019
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