Gazing and guessing

Last Updated 28 September 2013, 16:18 IST

Appearances, as they say, are really deceptive, and there are great minds who advise us not to make assumptions. They tell us that seeing is not believing.

Still, it is fun trying to build blocks out of nothing.I have this habit of gazing at people, watching them and imagining the connection between them, if there are more than two.

This exercise keeps my idle mind engaged, especially while travelling by train or while waiting at railway stations or airports. A group comes in, and my curiosity is kindled. This is more so if it is a triad. In fact, such combination of a group fascinates me. Two men and one woman — my imagination starts working. Are they friends, or is it a combination of husband-wife and a brother or a friend? I try to figure out the connection through their body language, watching them on the sly.

Families make the guessing game even more interesting, especially the groups travelling together apparently for some family functions. What is so endearing about such families is the warmth and camaraderie they share. Mealtime will be noisy, and who are served first usually gives a clue about hierarchy in the family. The wife-sister interaction (again, my assumption!) gives an insight into the dynamics of the whole gamut of relationships. As for me, the passive onlooker, time passes quickly, and my destination arrives before I can chart out who is who of that family, totally unknown and strange to me.

What makes this unique is the fact that most of the time the onlooker never gets a chance to verify whether the guesswork has been right or not. I never get to know the real connection on most occasions. It is all a game of assumptions. Once, a couple was with us, and I just assumed them to be husband and wife. There was something uncouple-like about them. Later, it turned out that it was a brother accompanying his married sister for a railway test.

Sometimes, first impressions and guesses keep changing as we start a conversation and actually get to know co-travellers. The other day, a six-member family was occupying seats next to us in a chair car. One man, two elderly ladies, one younger woman and two girls — my game began. My husband, used to my ‘pastime’, nudged me. “One is the mother, the other, mother-in-law. Can you guess who is who?”

The younger woman was taking care of both but talked more with one. “That must be the mother,” I whispered to my partner-in-game. By the time we reached our destination, we had discovered the truth: ‘that’ was the mother-in-law, and the other elderly woman was the former’s mother-in-law!

Sometimes, assumptions can also be the product of ignorance and conditioning. The deity of our local temple is said to be very powerful. In our early days in the locality, my neighbour, a very pious devotee, used to whisper to me in awe that Devi comes out at nights, and that one can even hear the sound of her anklets.

I did believe her since I too had heard the sound at night. But we had the Revelation one day when we came back from a second show: ‘Devi’ turned out to be a tired poor man, pedalling a creaky cycle back home, after writing accounts at a shop late at night. So much for divine patrolling at nights!

I also remember the first time we saw ear mufflers. We were travelling to the North by train. It was much before those mufflers flooded markets in the South, and we assumed — naturally — that our young co-traveller had some surgery done on her ears. When we started seeing too many such ‘patients’, it became too much of a co-incidence to be ignored. Even now I thank my stars for being reticent — otherwise, I would have asked the young woman about her ear problem!

Assumptions may make us susceptible to visual deceptions. May be we make all sorts of assumptions because we lack the courage to ask questions. But, what does it matter when it provides a free roller-coaster ride for your imagination?

(Published 28 September 2013, 14:28 IST)

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