Saying what you want to say. Being understood or perceived the way you would like to be. Therein lies the challenge of communication and it’s much more than mere words!
Elated Arjun after winning Draupadi in a Swayamvara returned home to the potter’s cottage where Pandavas were living disguised as Brahmins. Yudhisthir, the eldest brother called out to their mother who was cooking and said, “Mother, see what we have brought today.” Kunti, without looking up replied, “Whatever it is, share it amongst yourself.”
Another instance from Mahabharata, where Guru Dronacharya was wreaking havoc on Pandavas with his divine weapons. Arjuna, the only one who could hold him, refused to fight his Guru. Dronacharya’s only weakness was his son Aswathhama. Wily Krishna asked Bheema to kill an elephant with the same name and then convinced Yudhisthir to twist the truth, “Aswathhama hatha (and then he murmured) iti Narova Kunjarova (don’t know whether it’s man or elephant).”
These are fairly well-known instances of miscommunication. While the first one is unintended, the second instance is carefully thought through and deliberated upon. In the first case, Yudhisthir assumed his mother would look up from her cooking before responding, while Kunti assumed it would just be alms or a wild animal that the bothers had hunted down. Thus, Draupadi ended up with five husbands. The second instance led to the victory of Pandavas in the battle of Kurukshetra. History is full of such instances.
In today’s context, where everyone has an opinion thanks to social media, and fake news or misinformation can be spread at the click of a button, communication has become even more challenging. It’s important to understand and be aware that communication is not just about what we say, it’s about how we say and to whom it is said. Expressions, body language, tone – everything forms part of the communication. Basis how the words are said or delivered, the listener or the audience comprehends them. The same words can be understood and interpreted differently by different audience, sometimes the interpretations may be very different from what the speaker or the writer intended it to be. Years ago, in English literature class, while we were critically analyzing Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ our Professor humorously quipped, ‘Keats probably never even imagined that his poem would be open to so many different interpretations.’
An innocent statement can cause lot of damage if not addressed to the right audience. Remember Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ tweet. While ‘cattle class’ maybe a common enough jargon in the US, we sensitive Indians found it unacceptable. When you are a public figure or communicating in a public forum it is very important to understand and be aware of these sensitivities and nuances.
Today, technology has changed the whole game of communication. We live on social media where everybody is talking – expressing opinions, knowledge, wisdom or just showing off how cool their lives are. We often forget to listen, we forget the repercussions of the social media, the danger of exposing ourselves too much, of being interpreted in unfavorable manner. And what concerns me more is, while we are talking to everyone, we are forgetting to talk to the person next to us. Walking into a living room or a gathering where each person is focused on his phone or iPad is fairly common nowadays, especially among the younger lot.
I may be old fashioned, but nothing can replace a good chat with a friend over a cup of coffee or a heart to heart chat with a loved one. For it’s not just words, so much is said in between the words or even without. You can say so much just by looking into someone’s eyes or with a smile!!
Birthdays are always so special to me. Many a ‘mature’ people have often told me, “What’s the big deal about birthday? It’s just another day.” For me they are a BIG deal, I wait for my birthday every year, for the wishes to pour in, the cakes, the gifts, even the FB wishes and videos. I subtly (and sometimes shamelessly) remind people about my upcoming birthday, lest they forget to wish. Passing years haven’t taken the sheen off birthday celebrations, I feel as excited as I did as a little girl. It’s not so much about a huge party or expensive presents, it’s more about being remembered by people you love, celebrating the day I came to this world, surely there’s something special about that day!
When I was a little girl, birthdays were about mom making kheer in the morning. I would be greeted with a spoonful of sweet kheer, new dress and maybe a toy. I grew up in a joint family, dida (dadi), kaku (uncles), pishi (bua) and cousins, besides my parents and sisters, would lovingly wish me happy birthday. There were no 12 a.m. celebrations then, birthday celebrations started in the morning. While my parents would get me a dress for my birthdays’, Namentu (my dad’s younger brother who was very popular with the children of the family) would indulge me with toys and books. Ranga pishi (my favourite bua) would ensure I got all my favourite sweets. Unfortunately, both Namentu and Ranga Pishi left us early and birthday’s or any other celebration has not been the same since.
highpoint of the day was about wearing a new dress and happily heading to the
school bus stop holding Ranga Pishi’s hand with a bag full of toffees
(Parle G or Eclairs). Birthday girls or boys would get special treatment in the
school and that would start from the bus stop. Kids would wish me, give me
flowers, I would handout a toffee to each child. On reaching school the class
teacher would announce my birthday and the whole class would sing for me. After
that I would hand out a toffee to each kid, close friends would get more than
one (the birthday girl’s discretion made her so important that day). To think
just one toffee could be so sought after!
be small party at home in the evening. Mom would bake a cake, cook my favourite
food. My best friend, few of my close friends and the whole family would gather
for the cake cutting and the dinner thereafter. It was a simple homely affair
but there was so much love and affection. I got cute little gifts like pens and
pencil boxes which I cherished. Throwing a birthday party in a hotel or a
restaurant, spending money on expensive gifts didn’t even cross our minds in
those days. We were so happy blowing balloons, decorating the drawing room with
coloured papers, being hugged and kissed and wished by everyone around. Those
were the perfect birthdays!
leaving home, midnight birthday celebrations in the hostel had its own share of
fun and excitement. Friends and hostel mates would organize a cake, admirers
would cue up with lovey dovey cards and sometimes flowers. Made me feel so
grown up, years ahead seemed so exciting. When I started working, I started paying for
my own birthday dinners and throwing birthday parties, that was a different
feeling all together.
birthdays’ away from home haven’t always been easy. There were moments when I pined for more
attention from someone special, felt people didn’t care enough for me and my
birthday. But those are far and few, buried in the happy memories and
excitement that birthday brings along with it each year. I have been blessed
with friends who always take time out to make my birthday special, buy me gifts
that I cherish!
best part is, even after celebrating so many birthdays I don’t feel any older.
I don’t attempt to light up the cake with 40 something candles though. The glow
of my happiness, youth, maturity and wisdom (that I have accumulated over the
years hopefully) is enough for that!!
A humorous take on everyday life by Chandana Dutta
Sunita hurried to the trunk at the edge of her room. She squatted and quickly took down the odd utensils kept on it. On one side of the trunk was a pitcher. She stood up and bracing herself against its weight, placed it gingerly on the floor. Not again, the top of the tin was pockmarked, with rust and wetness. Anyway, she was late for work and couldn’t dwell on these small things right now. She heaved open the lid, took out the polythene packet kept inside. She unscrewed her skull in a few movements, took out her brain and put it inside the packet. There! It was safe now. Till she returned from work a few hours later. What purpose would it serve if she carried it with her? Why use her brain for the work expected of her? Really, there wasn’t much to do anyway. In any case, now that she had left her dimaag behind, it wouldn’t matter if she reached late, or skipped working somewhere, or broke a glass or two, maybe put the clothes that were to be ironed in the fridge instead. After all, it was just another day.
She stepped out into the hot sun not
bothering with the door. It wouldn’t shut, the wood had rotted away in parts
and the entire thing was sagging. It would hold like this for a few days
perhaps, maybe not. Never mind, there was hardly anything inside that could be
stolen. The first house was just round the corner, hardly a couple of minutes.
Now look at this idiot, how suddenly he braked. He clearly hadn’t expected her.
What she couldn’t figure out was how these people drove, if he had just kept
left, the entire dirt footpath was free. He could drive there. And here he was
all ready to climb over her right in the middle of the road. These people in
big cars, didn’t have the brains to figure out that people would be walking on
She opened the gate to the house.
There, they had kept the front door locked, again. She rattled the handle. Then
she turned towards the road, better to see who was passing by. Arre, they
haven’t opened the door yet. She rattled the handle some more. God knows what’s
wrong with these people, they can’t hear or what. Just then Mrs. Sharma from
the other side called out, “Arre, Sunita, beta bell baja do. Tabhi to sunai
parega.” Uff, this woman. What was the point of a calling bell when she could
rattle the handle hard? Anyway, she did as told. The door flew open in just a
minute. “Why didn’t you open the door sooner?” “I didn’t hear the bell at all,
Sunita went about collecting the plates and glasses off the table. Once everything was placed near the sink, she would begin washing. “You’ve placed those glasses right at the edge Sunita, be careful.” “I work every day, don’t I know what to do!” She had perfected the art of ignoring these women right from day one. They were always saying something or the other, none of which made sense. The “Main Balak Tu Mata Sherawalian” ring tone shattered the silence. It must be her mother. She always called at this hour. She half-turned to pick up the mobile and crash went two of the glasses. “What happened,” Bhabhiji rushed up from her work table. “Just look at these stupid glasses, they were in the way. Anyway, only two broke. Mai saaf kar doongi.” Bhabhiji fled back into her room overcome by her emotions, she closed her door. She would now probably need some alone time to regain her equilibrium. Why do they even use glass, I tell you? Steel’s not good enough for these people. Anyway, her mother must be wondering why she hadn’t picked up the phone. She might just think something had happened to her daughter. By now frantic, she must have called practically half her family with details of their missing child. “Arre, Amma, kuch nahin. Just two glasses, they broke. I cleaned up before calling you back.”
Very soon, oblivious to where she was, and what she was meant to do, Sunita and Amma were discussing just about everything under the sun. Lachmi the tailor had to close his shop for a few days because they couldn’t find his wife. Three days later they figured out that she had left for her mother’s, just two villages away with her brother who was passing by. Of course, in all the rush, she had simply forgotten to tell her husband. Sunita’s younger sister, who lived in Timarpur in the big city, was running a fever, 99.8 or so. But surely that called for a few injections at the local doctor’s otherwise how would the fever go down? Poor thing, she was always so weak, especially now after her fourth daughter was born, and a fifth, god forbid it should be a girl again, was on its way. But then the brother-in-law was doing so well, working in the shoe shop in their neighbourhood. Never mind, if he had to leave by 8 in the morning and return after 10 at night. Still, it was the big city and a shoe shop at that. And how well her sister kept the kids! Each time they visited the village, they were all dressed prettily in identical hot pink gauzy lace frocks. Of course, the lace would bite into their innocent skin and keep them itchy and irritable all the time but they looked so pretty. Oh, and then the news about Bare Chacha. Bare Chacha worked on a farm in the village. The owner’s daughter’s father-in-law’s pet dog was unwell. Very weak. And needed as many blessings as possible. Would it be possible for Sunita and Jamai Raja to join everybody at the village for a path and bhandara? Bare Chacha would be so upset if the family did not rally around full force. After all the dog was such a pet of the entire family. How could anybody not feel the pain? Surely, collective prayers would help. Why not, Sunita could easily skip work for a few days. After all, this was such an important occasion. Surely Woh would also feel the same way.
Finally, the dishes were done and Sunita had to call off. She would call back again soon after talking with her husband about their travel plans. They could easily take the night bus. Luckily they could just buy the tickets when they boarded.
Just as she was about to leave Sunita
realized that she hadn’t told Bhabhiji anything. She turned back and opened the
door. “Kal se nahin aoongi Bhabhi.” Bhabhiji somehow lifted herself up from the
chair and tottered out on her weak legs, completely drained by this news. Perhaps
she would also benefit from some collective prayers for her own mental health
and well-being. But what was one to do? One must accept one’s fate, whatever it
may be. “When will you return?” “I can’t say anything right now. The dog might
get better but God forbid, someone else might fall ill, or get married. I’ll
let you know when I’m back finally.” Sunita flashed her a happy smile, adjusted
her saree and exited. It had been a successful morning half after all. Come to
think of it, there wasn’t really any need to go to the other houses. After all,
if she was to leave soon, she would need to pack, right. In any case, they
would find out soon enough.
So, she was back again at her door,
having jauntily owned half the road. Dare someone drive over her? Why should
she walk on the footpath when there was a perfectly decent road already to be
Once back inside her room, she headed to the trunk. She took down the utensils once again, the pitcher as well. Once again, she cursed the wetness and the rust on its top. But then there wasn’t enough time to think about it right now. She unscrewed her skull and put back her brain. Now she could think properly. She took out the lone jhola inside, put in the two sarees she had and a set of clothes for her husband. Not much else there. This time she put her utensils into the trunk. Locked it. Her packing was done. In fact, they could leave as soon as Woh was back for lunch. She lay down on the chatai. And switched on the radio. Bliss.
Chandana Dutta, Founder-Member of the outfits Akka Bakka and Renge Strains that work with Art and Creative Writing with children and adults, has been Assistant Director for the publishing wing of Katha, a pioneering organisation in the field of translations. She set up the publishing outfit Indialog of which she was Chief Editor. She was Editor, Indian Horizons, a quarterly on art and culture published by the ICCR, New Delhi. She translates from Hindi and Bangla into English. She holds a Ph. D. from the Jawaharlal Nehru University.