Children and the nouveau riche

Vir Sanghvi is not happy with the way Indian kids behave in public. He writes in Lounge:

A friend of mine was enjoying a quiet dinner with her boyfriend at a Delhi pizza place when the children from the next table began invading their space and wrecking their dinner. Politely but firmly, she asked the mother if she could possibly keep her kids from hassling her table. Rather than offer any apology, the mother turned viciously on her. “I am sure you are the kind of woman who has no children of your own,” she snarled. “That’s why you are complaining.”

What is it with us? Why don’t we recognize that as much as we love Chunnu, Munnu, Pappu, Bunty or Pinky, the rest of the world is under no obligation to regard them with similar indulgence? Worst of all is the feeling of entitlement that prosperous parents have.They believe that because they are rich, their kids have the right to do whatever they feel like. It’s a funny thing but the children of less-wealthy or poor parents never behave quite as badly as the children of the rich.

I face such behaviour all the time. It’s happened in a restaurant, where kids from a neighbouring table have done unspeakable things to my plate, and on my complaining their mother has said to me, “Arrey, bacchay hai, karne do na?” My reply that they are her bacchay and not my bachhay made her furious, as if I was a heartless monster for not allowing her children to wreck my evening.

They are also a nuisance in cinema halls, expecially when they sit behind you and kick your chair repeatedly through the film. Adults do this as well—once, after half-an-hour of being kicked, I turned around to the teenager behind me and made the entirely reasonable request that he stop kicking my chair. “Arrey, humne bhi ticket ke paise diye hai,” he barked. (I have had the same argument offered to me when I asked a gentleman to stop snarling into his mobile phone during a film.)

I have tried various ways of dealing with this, and the most effective one, I have found, is this: Turn to your companion and say, in a voice soft enough to not be a direct insult but loud enough to be heard, “Villagers.” If you’re really angry, say “Bloody villagers.”

See, Sanghvi is entirely right when he says that such intrusive behaviour and the resulting arrogance comes largely from the nouveau riche, whose newfound prosperity may go to their head, but is accompanied by an anxiousness to appear sophisticated. For them, “Villager” is a far greater pejorative than “Bhainchod” or “Maaderchod,” even if those are also somehow accurate. It strikes at the heart of their identity, and also conveys the point that their behaviour is inappropriate. They often shut up after this, though they may kick the chair a couple of times a few minutes later to test the waters. An incredulous glare—as opposed to a merely angry one—is called for here.

Sometimes, of course, they retort. Once a group of teenagers kicked my chair and made much noise throughout a film, despite many pleas not to—there’s safety in numbers—and when the show got over I politely told them that their behaviour was out of place here, and called them villagers. They fell silent, and after I had walked a few feet towards the exit, one of them managed to think of a response. He shouted, “Abey, townie!”

The irony of that will not be lost on those who know me well.