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I could hear them from 4-5 rows away, a bunch of excited girls, or rather for the more finicky amongst you, young women in their early twenties, off on a journey somewhere. They were an animated lot, chattering and laughing. I smiled hearing them, remembering my own days of travel with friends decades back. We had been a noisy gang on trips between home and hostel during college days. These young women had boarded the train from the same station as I had. The slightly elevated decibel level of voice and sudden spurts of laughter were making heads turn now and then, I noted. No, it was not noise loud enough to be troublesome to anyone, or so I thought.

The moment the train started, my glasses were on my nose and my nose itself, deep inside a book. The Girl Who Played With Fire was someone whom you did not mess with. She demanded your undivided attention and you gave it to her more than willingly, at least I did. But in spite, a snatch of conversation happening somewhere n my vicinity penetrated my concentration enough to make my ears prick up suddenly, forgetting the arsonist who held me captive till then. Someone from the row behind mine was complaining to the Ticket Examiner. What I could surmise from the bit I heard was just that something had been said about the gang of girls who were in high spirits, probably in a holiday mood. Since I had missed the initial parts of the conversation, sweet Carolyn (I hope the spelling is right? Or is it Caroline?), fellow passenger sitting next to me, filled me in on the missed details.

It seems a couple of Stuffed Shirts (my opinion, not that of sweet Carolyn) seated in the row behind found the noise pollution of the chattering magpies aka young women in a holiday mood, rather disturbing. They wanted the Ticket Examiner to intervene and do something about it, meaning put a damn stop to it.

“What can I possibly do?” the TE countered. He seemed sympathetic to the cause of the Stuffed Shirts, for he added, “IT girls!” in an exasperated tone that seemed to suggest what else anyone could expect from such as them. Emancipated young women, who earned just as much as their male counterparts and having as much or more fun. It looked like that scenario was not going down too well with a section of my fellow travellers.

“They will get down at Alleppey,” the TE said in a conciliatory tone even as he walked away.

This incident set me thinking. It was a day train, the joyous chatter only mildly higher in volume. It was quite obvious that the girls were excited about going somewhere together.  And yet, some people felt it was not right that they be noisy in their happiness. WHY is it that a gaggle of happy and carefree young women enjoying life such an anathema to our society? No, please don’t tell me that it is because our culture says that ‘girls should be seen and not heard’, which in some way is believed to enhance their character and as a result lift our society itself to some higher plane or that the Stuffed Shirts of society blindly believed it to be true. My ‘why’ is directed at the part about girls/women only being ‘seen and not heard’. WHY should girls be seen and not heard? Why exactly are we (or a sizeable number of us) still holding on to this baseless and nonsensical belief?

Tell me once again, for I seem to have never got it, not in more than half a century of my life, just HOW raised voices of young women are bad for the health of our society or culture for that matter? I have heard that an opera singer’s piercing voice can shatter glass. Are we supposed to believe that raised voices of women even in laughter, would splinter culture to bits and bring society to naught? Is the eagerness to protect this oh-so-fragile culture the reason the stalwarts of society insist that its female population pussyfoot around and be silent all their lives? Of course that begs the question as to why we need or are bent on preserving a culture that cannot withstand a good open throated laughter or even some rude or high-spirited expletives from the female half of its population. Shouldn’t a culture that is worthy be able to absorb sound bytes from both the genders and still be able to stand on its own feet?

Since I could not deduce the age of the complainants, I also wondered whether this could be an old versus young thing. The majority of older people delight in finding fault with a younger generation’s high spirits, equating it with ‘rowdiness’, conveniently forgetting their own youthful days. It has got something to do with selective amnesia that sets in at adulthood and worsens with age.

But…

There is another reason. I have found that by and large we (Humans? Indians? Mallus? Take your pick) detest others being happy, especially women and among women, especially those that have gone against the norm. Instead of the joy of others bringing joy to your own self, happy people are looked at with scepticism. Our culture delights in frowning at happiness and saying, “This is all temporary, it is not going to last!” Now quite frankly, WHAT good does THAT statement do?! And yet we find so many cautioning us against being too happy. They warn us, “This will surely end in tears!” Oh really?!! And you think your warning is going to make things better? Or perhaps if we pretend we are not happy, bad luck and tears will leave us alone?

I hate the morose lot who delight in being cynics and predicting dire consequences instead of letting the happy ones simply be. What perverse pleasure do people get from pricking the balloon of happiness of others is simply beyond me.

This brings to mind something that happened almost 29 years back. The L & M had to leave for his work place a month after our marriage, while I had to stay back. Those were days of snail mail. We used to write to each other each and every day. Saturdays were no-letter days since the next day was a postal holiday. One day while returning from watching a movie with the MIL, we met a friend of hers. In the course of the conversation that followed, the MIL told her how we, the newlywed couple, wrote to each other daily. The old lady looked at me for a whole minute, a cynical smile plastered on her face and then said,

Ithokke puthu modi alle?!” (Loose translation, it is the enthusiasm of early days)

Catch you writing to each other ten years from now, or even two years, her sly smile said as clearly as if she had enunciated each word.  I know some “kind” souls who’d take up cudgels on behalf of such people as her (You know who you are my friend). They are only talking about their own experience, they explain. Oh really? So these old ladies have ‘experienced’ that the initial enthusiasm wears off in marriage? Is this the way to prepare a new entrant to be practical in her expectations? WHY predict doom only when confronted with someone else’s happiness? The only answer that makes itself obvious to me is envy of youth and their happiness. Perhaps the Stuffed Shirts in the train fell in the category of those who envied the youth their exuberance.

Anyways, the L & M and I  proved the cynical old lady wrong. A quarter century later, we were still writing letters to each other every single day that we spent apart, except Saturdays of course.  😉

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