Life of late has been taking a whole lot of meanings which in fact are quite meaningless. Things have been getting curiouser and curiouser. Yes, many people will argue that it is all right, that things are okay. We will not argue with them, but our questions? We should be raising them, if only to free ourselves of the roadblocks we encounter as we go along.
Has the question of why some important people --- and they are quite a lot of people --- have towels drape their chairs in their offices exercised the mind in you? It is an image which disturbs the vision, for it is something you rarely see anywhere else. Is that towel there to keep the back of the chair clean and gleaming? Or is it the fear that the oil from the occupant's hair or body will create stains on it?
These questions will keep coming. And our towel traders will go on having a field day with such important people for whom a towel for their chairs in their offices is of critical importance. And then there is the matter of the shoes. All too often, in our country --- and this is a trait which some of our compatriots have taken overseas, where they happen to reside --- guests are expected to take off their shoes before they step inside the drawing room of the host's home. That makes you feel quite denuded of dignity.
If your hosts are concerned about the cleanliness of their rugs and sofas, why should they be inviting people to lunch or dinner? Ah, you might now thank your stars that it is only shoes you are expected to take off, nothing more. That's quite a relief, but it still bothers you. You need to go to the host's washroom and you have to do that in your socks, which are likely to get wet if there is water on the floor of the washroom. That's pretty irritating, isn't it?
In my early days at university, at the end of the first year honours course, we were required to fill in forms about our subsidiary subjects. The forms were in Bangla, which posed a problem for some of my classmates whose ability to read or understand Bangla was minimal, for a number of reasons. One of my classmates, a girl, needed my help to fill in her form. I did, until I came to the slot which related to her date of birth. She took the form from me and said she would do the rest at home.
I got the point. She was not willing to let me know her date, month or year of birth. It happens to a number of women, including those who have had books of poetry or fiction published in Bangladesh over the years. They will happily mention their date and month of birth on the jackets of their books but carefully leave out the year in which they were born.
What purpose is being served through a person's concealing her age? In life, ageing is a beautiful experience. It is a mark of increasing wisdom and grace. But here we are, meeting people whose age you can guess but who will shy away from telling you in which year they were born. We will let them be. Who are we to complain?
There used to be a time when we observed the birth anniversaries of people in the family as also individuals who have made a mark in history through their contributions in the many areas of life. They are all dead, but thanks to the vagaries of modern technology, indeed the internet, we imagine they are yet around us. And so it is that we have people saying 'Happy birthday, Einstein' and 'Happy birthday, Rabindranath'. Einstein and Rabindranath do not say 'thank you' because their lives ended years ago.
And yet such are the curious acts we indulge in, wishing the dead on their birthdays in the full knowledge that death put an end to their corporeal forms years, even decades, even centuries ago. It would be quite pointless to wish Shakespeare 'happy birthday' because it is no more in his ability to smile at us and say 'thank you'.
Going back to the ageing process, why must people think they can conceal their age by dyeing their hair? There are people all across the globe who keep themselves glued to the laws of nature and enjoy the sight of their hair going grey and then white with age.
In our society, men and women in fairly large numbers go out on a limb to dye their hair black or golden or fiery red, which unfortunately doesn't go with their otherwise charming process of maturity as defined by the passing years. Richard Gere's hair, in its natural white, is sheer joy. You watch Sharmila Tagore growing in grace, her beauty enhanced by her grey hair, and respect her all the more. Our grandfathers did not dye their hair and beards but kept them a natural snow-white.
And, yes, we should be careful how we apply adjectives to people whom we love beyond measure. Our love is without question, but even so we should not indiscriminately describe artistes or writers or politicians who may be popular as legends. That word 'legend' is a loaded one, not to be handled in cavalier fashion. We need to know the difference between 'famous' and renowned', between a 'celebrity' and a 'reputed personality.'
In the old days, in the movies, we loved the stars who were in the cast. They were Gregory Peck, Dilip Kumar, Uttam Kumar, Richard Burton, Suchitra Sen, Razzaq and Kabori and a host of others. We loved their screen performances and respected them for the roles they played.
And today? We have a plethora of megastars and superstars in the world of films. We watch them dance and gyrate and twist on the screen among scantily clad women. In them we notice an absence of gravitas, of the sedate that was there in the movie stars of the times we have lived through.
In the past, books were published and it was for readers to buy them or decide to not go for them. Nowadays there are book launches, with writers sitting at desks ready to have their admirers purchase their new books and have them autographed by them. These writers look forward to rave reviews of their works in the newspapers, meaning an encomium.
What a world! And what will it be without that towel around the chair in your office?