There was this newspaper report on the rise in bad manners across classes and nations. President Bush America is shown up as a new high in political bad manners and bad behaviour among the high and mighty!
The September II terror attack coincided with the American President showing up in lacking moral courage, he went speechless for some time! And he was in fact teaching school children at that very moment When he must have showed up what leadership was all about! Also Bush language, his body language his verbal infelicity displayed to the wide world that here was a world leader,leader of the world’s most powerful nation, who is just a pigmy.
Etiquette is all about when men turn gentlemen and women ladies! It is all about class and breeding, going to the right schools and universities and acquainting ourselves with polite society. Learning to speak correctly, be it mother tongue or English. Also polishing one’s speech styles and being concious about it all the time! It is not about just money or tonnes of money! Etiquette is about oneself. In a democratic time like ours, evolving into a higher class role models!
Yes, from that day onwards what the world saw is something unprecedented in history. At every step the world saw a decline in standards, moral, political and diplomatic standards. The first counter-attack to Bush harangues came from France and Germany. It is to the credit of the French President Jaques Chirac that he stood up to what he saw as an unprincipled stand on the part of America and those who stood by Bush, notably, the British Prime Minister Blair that unilateral declaration of war against Afghanistan and then more dramatically and even unjustifiably (as later revelations showed) against Iraq outside the UN agency a great tragedy for the world. Now, bad manners?
Bad behaviour? Impolite language? Yes, it seems there is a new concern and a new interest in the old subject of etiquette and manners. In the next few months we are told there would be at least three major books on the decline of good manners in the modern world. The subject could be endlessly fascinating.The subject is also Anglo-centric,the British in particualr are obsessed with the subject and hence you see so many standard texts on the subject are written by the British authors, often ladies of high society.
Yes, etiquette and manners are the special concerns of those who think they are above the rest of the society! Can a democratic society care for good manners or the many facets of etiquette? Why not? France where the highly feudalistic society later gave rise of so many radical ideas and also for so much of modern fashions! So it is not etiquette vs democracy,it is etiquette vs polite society.
A father told his Etonian son:boy it is the coat that matters! The son retorted, no dad, it is the hat that makes it!
Politics of ruthlessness and criminality had downgraded institutions and morals! So the very same people, politicians whom we thought had to learn some basic etiquette about how to behave in society, setting role models are symbols of bad manners. We need a new Mathew Arnold who wrote the “Culture and Anarchy” to call names and remind the rich and powerful, how philistine their conduct is,how they are in fact the new breed of barbarians!
Etiquette is about oneself, evolving into a higher class role models.Yes, etiquette is not just about the outwardly appearances. It is all about one’s poise,the inner poise comes with conscious cultivation and moving in the right company. Unfortunately in India at the present times much boorishness goes with money and social climbing. India also has this social segment: the government segment. Somehow, there is much regard and some fear too about the bureaucracy in our lives. This is an Indian disease. So still those who are bureaucrats or belong to the bureaucratic class, enjoy an unnatural social importance.
So some of the older families of the bureaucratic class still pretend to be men and women of high culture.They are often not. I am a member of the Indian Oxford and Cambridge Society. You have to see how amused or how annoyed am I with the behaviour of some of the Oxbridge Indians. They are so paranoid and they expose themselves in their very invitations that always accompanies a sentence in the very first or two sentences about the money factor! Drinks at Rs.500! Or a payment if you bring a guest along with you or some such irritating details about money in the very invitation! This is not etiquette at all! I am sorry to say that and that such things had put us off, the two members of the Society!
We Indians are not yet ready to parade our social nuances it seems. May be our society has to
grow further, our culture and refinement has to come after some one or two generation of good education. Anyway, this is how I feel even after observing some of our established public schools and how the Indian middle class struts its upper class pretensions by just entering into the portals of these schools or one or two colleges in Delhi!
Life after all the good education? The very same old bureaucracy. Only in India this mongrel blood is still rated high! Bureaucats as politicians or politicians entering into bureaucracy. In Delhi you will see the husband-wife team of police officials, their parents in politics and yet no shame after a lifetime of serving a government and saluting the most illiterate men, these very same babus aspire to become politicians! The Indian political system allows this churning is no tribute to our democratic puritanism!
Our politics is highly contaminated by the desire in average Indians for some government perks or other. It doesnt matter whether it comes by labour of some honour or simply by cringing before some fellows below your culture, through dishonourable means. This in my view is an outcome of long centuries of slavery under an alien yoke and in the process what we have got as a legacy is a deep sense of inferiority complex.Out of this complex is born our rather artificial imitations or pretensions for a higher status! Anyway, in spite of our social hindrances it is good manners and a cultivated social etiquette that only can make India a modern and a cultured nation.
A polite society we have to indentify, devoid of the many disabilities I had narrated. So is our fall at the feet of business classes that buy respectability by bribes and cringing! How many politicians today had made their lives thanks to this corporate gift! So, we are still a nation of shameless people,we have no self-worth, we have no pride in our individuality.No personal freedoms too in our society, have you noticed?
It is a long way indeed before we can stand up and say”we are as equal to any advanced culture”. Signs of deeper malaise: changing class and caste equations and the rise of raw power,unaccounted money power and political power and corruption and criminal politics and the consequent moral cowardice. India is long recognised as a feudal and caste hierarchial society. So, here too we have the Sanskritisation vs the rest of the society. All, India lacked was the needed veneer of Westernisation and modernisation. The growth of economy, industry, society, learning and the consequent recognition to arts and literature and learning.
Whether we like it or not,it is history that determines our lives.The society had always progressed from the feudal to the industrial and modern societies and yet there is always this deep class division in any society.Even the most advanced society displays these divisions. More so in the less developed societies like India.Inside India we see so many hierarchical divisions. Caste, more than the class positions our class status and as more and more economic development throws out new rich people, they, would seek to fit into new class divisions and the rest of the society also would assign us into the new accepted forms!
There is public opinion,there is also the conservative society and the conservative opinion. How the classes are formed or how the classes evolve or evolved? A difficult and complicated question. But what is agreed universally is the fact that there are classes in every society. These classes might not be openly talked about but secretly, these classes are identified and who belongs to which class are also debated endlessly.
In societies like Britain the class divisions are so openly asserted and acknowledged as well! Everyone knows his or her class positions! In India there is so much hypocracy for the simple reason we are not yet a developed society. Can you think of a classless society?An equal society? Where opportunities may be given by law for every citizen irrespective of class or economic status.But in reality there are deeper divisions of class divide and economic divide.
As for good manners and finer habits, what we in India know for sure is the concept of respectability.We like to give respect to others and also we expect others to give respect to us,to our sentiments and false assumptions of our own importance. Who gives respect to whom these days?Not many people care for these things.I have been observing in India that how progressively we see the decline of respect for others. The bug starts at the top and it never stops at the bottom as well. I have noticed the powerful politicians not showing any concern for others.This trait had lately becoming widely across all parties and all party leaders.
Politicians : In Delhi and in State capitals I see these decline of manners uniformly.
In Delhi when Nehru was in power there was some iealism at all levels.Under Kamaraj in Chennai I saw much respect for people at many levels.
In Bangalore I had interacted with Ramakrishna Hegde and even with Deve Gowda. In Chennai these days, the politicians uniformly are behaving with a raw and new found coarseness! The behaviour of politicians in New Delhi is now a daily spectacle as we see the conduct of Parliament. When this sort of coarseness in language and conduct would reach the other organs of government?
There was a time upto even Rajiv Gandhi days.If you write a letter to the Prime Minister there would usually be a reply. In the days of Indira Gandhi she would sign her postcards! Many people had shown me proudly such post cards from Mrs.Gandhi. After Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi nobody cares in Delhi for anyone! May be political life in general had become more desparate than in those days! Now, what can we do except to comment upon the bad days ahead of us,ahead of our society? Any cultural writer or critic has to contend with this cultural decline and he or she must contribute to the current debate.
Fuzz and certain excess is etiquette!
It is all Westernisation,you should know! No country, no people or no cluture can be said of lacking in manners or good behaviour. What is basically a Western, modern, developed, culturally and in terms of civilization values far advanced nations and cultures have evolved what we strictly call etiquette and manners.
In spite this observation we have to make some observations here. For instance Indians are known for their inherent values and value system.There is likewise,in other societies like China and Japan there are very distinctive value systems and good behaviour patterns and customs in the three countries and when they receive foreigners. India is known for its hospitality, politeness, tolerance, in one word, our celebrated unity in diversity. Our cultures are well -understood and well-appreciated. Having said this much I must hasten to add that all these traditional values don’t add up to what I call manners and etiquette in the modern sense.
Can we say our political leaders are gentlemen?Are they sensitive to peoples’ interests?How they receive visitors? How they respond to complaints or letter from their constituents? I am sure there will be near unanimity if I make the observation that our politicians are highly ill-mannered and lacking in all basic courtesies.
Define culture as follows: Culture in vertical sense and also in horizontal circles.The centre is the very highly cultured.The more the outer ring the less cultured. Likewise, the top is the very cultured, the next layer is less cultured. The botton is lacking in modern culture whatever.We have to see sociological and economic realities and thus the so many inequalities and inequities have created these circles of divisions. In India castes also had added to the complexitiy of inequities. However, the reality is such we cant shut our eyes to the exsting layers of social and cultural divisions.
So the very cultured,the very sophisticated and the very well-behaved have always been the most privileged also. The old aristocracy had all the time and energy to be sophisticated, courtesies and was able to practice and thereby perfect what we today understand as modern etiquette and manners.
Again,as I said in the Western sense,etiquette and manners is being sensitive top strangers among us,being nice and helpful and adopt some strict formalities. Be it introduction to replying to letters received and also moving in society, mixing with the opposite sex and conduct at the dining table,using the fork and knife and also how you generally conduct in society and the public. English gentleman will wear a top hat and an overcoat and wear glouses,while the lady also wear suitable head dress and conduct herself as the guest or the hostess with appropriate manners.The etiquette and manners could be simple or elaborate.It all depends.
My visit to Europe
When myself and my wife visited France in the early Seventies, we were received at the Orley airport with a nice hadshake and a bouquet for my wife, with suitable beautiful French words of welcome!
France where to use the exact language is a national honour!. The very French language turns you into using the correct word and making a suitable correct gesture.This I had noticed in France at all levels, be it a restaurant or a perfume or a newspaper shop. Only the French society could sustain a newspaper like, Le Monde. Ir is such a serious and intellectual and asutere looking paper.It has no model in England for example. Our media owners and their journalists are very obedient and respectful to the government of the day. Yes, we have here colourful glossies, they are not something like what you have and what you feel when you touch them in London or Paris!
The point is that in France or even elsewhere it is essentil for good culture to demand that one is spoken to in a decent language, by using the best possible courteous expressions.The Brits these days seem dont care for such niceities.They defend their even the vulgarised expressions a vigorous speech or dismiss such things as their eccentricities! But not in France!
India: traditional society?
What we have is a very valuable old value. But this is no match to modern society, needs for our public conduct. Many of us,even the rich persons don’t know how to mix in a social gathering.They feel lost!It is the purpose of good breeding to inculcate the modern manners into our daily behaviour patterns.
Next the old aristocracy.Yes,once they were supposed to be models for the traditional society.No more.The Indian princes differed in one critical respect from the British aristocracy. In UK, good families sent their children to Eton and Oxford.This tradition we didn’t have. Our princes instead,might have attended school.Afterwards went astray! So,we don’t have a Curzon or other types of British models of high society.
If there is one Indian model of good manners and extreme courtesies,it was in Lucknow of the past.That refined speech and gestures etc., are typically Indian and we can still revive and make a conscious attempt to capture our own refinements in good living.
The 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib,who was born and lived in Agra and then moved over to Delhi pictured the changed values and change of fortunes in his famous couplets that are quoted even to this day in polite society in the North. The famed Oudhi tehzeeb! Mirza Ghalib was so shocked when he moved over to Delhi When when he lost the patronage of the Mughal emperor after 1857 brings to us what was lost in the old world charm. Respectful aap with the vulgar tu!
The last tribe is the corporate captains. The old captains were at least courteous to the outsiders, they had some time for other pursuits. Our current crop of IT czars are pretty simpletons when it comes to culture and manners.They don’t care for anyone else except the American dollar! Nothing wrong! But let them know they are no gentlemen! They are as yob and yahoos as Yankey style simpletons!
The very simple reason is that money, however much tonneful, can’t buy culture. Certainly it can’t bring you etiquette and manners. You may buy volumes of big books and adorn your shelves. That is no sign of your love for knowledge. What Mathew Arnold called it is,the question of culture is all about”sweetness and light “You have to cultivate it,you have to strive for it,you have to qualify very carefully. Otherwise, you are just philistines!
Unfortunately we Indians don’t have a choice but imitate the Brits. Again unfortunately,here we had only the choice to be master-servant relationships.So the British books only helped us to know but not to practice! When it comes to this highly debatable and also much desireable cultural side of modern day living. Why the fall and decline of the British manners and etiquette? You have to really ask a Brit today! A writer or a critic or a visiting British Ambassador or even a lowly Briton on an Indian tour.
British etiquette and manners. Tony Blair, a tabboid PM!
US Presidency : a cowboy image!
Etiquette says the writer in the Spectator on the British Prime Minister’s public conduct: “This is a tabloid government ,a ghastly cast list,lying spin doctors (one of the phrases that will stick in any political lexicon). The PM musthave used his spare time at university high tables,with intellectuals…. Contrast this with an earlier time when Churchill set out from 10 Downing Street to submit his regination: “Sir Winston Churchill,aged eighty, took his place at the Cabinet table and bade farewll to the men who have helped him. At 23 minutes past four the black door with the bronze letterbox bearing the address: “First Lord of the Treasury”opened and Sir Winston in top hat and old fashioned morning coat with a large cigar appeared. He doffed his topper, waved, mounted police jogged in front as it moved slowly past cheering people”. Yes, this is aristocracy of etiquette and royal style manners. This top hat and morning coat for gentlemen! Yes,the grooming of youngmen starts at public schools like Eton and it is the Eton top hat that separates other public school boys there!
Tony Blair, the Prime minister on this third election campaign symbolises the rise and fall of British society and politics. He doesn’t come from the traditional classes, he doesn’t seem to represent either of the upper or middle or working class types,as I knew them in the earlier generation. He seem to come from an upstart, new type of English class of self-made and also untypical British boistrous kind of a man. His wife to, though a successful barristor earning more money than most barristors of her age and times, she has no good image, she is seen as greedy and lacking in class and taste. She is seen as a grabber Introducing his deupty Mr.Gordon Brown, the finance minister (in Britain this is a high sounding name, Chancellor of the Exchequer), as probably the successful chancellor for 100 years”. Anyone in the British high society woud laugh it off as simply’ungentlemanly remark’.So too expressions like “This man Gordon Brown” Nor such remarks like”Britain’s hard-working families”. Anything in excess,in words or praise is typical unbecoming of a gentleman!
Also you see the British society is becomeing more boorish, its football, a national passion, is turning into more and more hooli- ganism of the worst kind. A book on football, such sports are becoming mainstream publishing activity! See such descriptions: English football is becoming bloodier than the continental game; football of the old was a sport played, by the gentlemanly heroes. Hooliganism, footballers are selfish, vain and violent as ever. These rites of bloodshed is predictably enough ascribed to the Btitains’s loss of empire”. Their violence proves to every Englishman that deep down he too is a raging animal.The colonial hangover is the reason for such violences and fall in public morals and political decline. This `declinism’ is a new phrase often touted for explaining the fall of values in England today. There was a time when I was a devoted reader of the Sunday newspaper, the clebrated Observer.
(French etiquette and manners reached its zenith under him at Versailles)
Louis XVI became king of France in 1774.The French society lived life to the full, pleasures and ease marked the society. Fredrick the Great wrote: The French,above all the inhabitants of Paris were now sybarites enervated by pleasure and ease!Another wrote: Never before had there been in France, nor was there in contemporary Europe, a society so polished,so intelligent,so delightful, as French society of the eighteenth century “The French perfected, said the great English philosopher Hume in 1741, “the art of society and conversation”. The word civilization, tells Will Durant, came to be used only at the end of this period. Even Johnson’s dictionary in 1755 didn’t have that word!
What does it mean?It is the French who civilized their dress. Upper class fashion decreed certain dresses, men wearing hats, feathers, gold braids, wigs etc. There were 12,00 wig shops in Paris! Courtiers wore breeches, shoes, stockings etc. Women? That is a long story!”Women still enjoyed the freedom of their legs! Powder, cosmetics. jewels, toiletries were elaborate. “Western Europe followed French fashions” French cuisine was already taking shape.Voltaire warned.”French cooking was already the model and peril of Christendom”! Even today visitors can have an idea of how etiquette evolved by seeing the elaborate halls,the ornate furniture, the king’s bed room and his vast gardens at Versailles and the spaciousness of living on a grand scale. “It was a brilliant age because women in it were brilliant, combining brain with beauty”.
The French aristocracy, under the Louis 16th regime at Versailles. If you are a lover of knowledge and a student of Will Durant,then it is his volume on “The Age of Voltaire”, 1715 to1776, that is the period in hisotry, that men’s morals and manners evolved into some recognisable cultural pattern.
In fact, there is a chapter there exactly on the very same topic. When arts and music, literature thrived, scholars and intellectuals were courted by kings and queens,Fredric the Great, Maria Theresa and Katherine the Great were patrons of the pauper philosophers!
Dr. Samuel Johnson
Dr.Samuel Johnson(1709- 1784) The Encyclopaedia Brittanica devotes 9 pages to this English hero. A poet, critic, essayist and lexicographer he wrote the English Dictionary in 1755, after nearly ten years of labour. That itself is now a legendary literary story.He is so popular even today for his witticisms and conversations that are quoted to this day.I used to see his famous quote in the London’s underground tube stations.It says:” Sir, If you are tired with London,then you are tired with life”.His house now visited by all lovers of English language and literature at Gough Square, off Fleet Street is a pilgrim centre.He is famous next only to Shakespeare.He set the standards not only for the correct usage for words and expressions,he was the guardian of public tastse.Your education doesnt become complete unless you have something or other to quote from this proud,highly opinionated eccentric genius of an archetypal English character. French language,more than English,is always been a language of etiquette (there is no equivalent in English), diplomacy(where nicities of language and gestures matter more than the content ) and also French is still the language of cuisine and menu in all countries and the French use words so carefully (you should remember it is the language of Voltair, Pascal,Descartes and Rousseau and so many absract thinkers).
Dear English hosts!
We have had family links with some British families as our hosts for long. Our family links had extended to over half a century by now!The links continue even today! Lord Traherne and Lady Traherne in Wales,outside Cardiff had received me first as an Oxford student in the late Fifties.The first introduction was made by one remarkable English lady, Lady Macdonald of Sleat, one who helped to establish friendship between British families and Indian students studying at Oxford.Our family ties with the Trahernes lasted for over half a century till they passed away. They lived in a large country house and the family owned thousands of acres of land.Lady Traherne helped me to learn some of the subtle British etiquette and manners.Everyday when we went out to a party Lady Traherne would say:..wear your black suit,use that tie and so on! How to receive a guest,make him comfortable, entertain at the dining table, see the guest to his rooms is all an elaborate social ceremony in England! That is etiquette in brief! Lord Traherne owned a Rolls Royce and he was the lord lieutenant of the county, a local representative of the Queen.In fact,when I took my family in 1971 we occupied the room just vacated the previous day by Prince Charles!
Trahernes took us for many parties in the neighbourhood where Rolls Royces were common. Serving champagne and holding your cup and making a polite conversation was all the etiquette of class!We were also taken to fox hunting parties! Lord Traherne was related to Lord Pentland, one-time Governor of Madras. Lord Traherne went to Oxford.The Dickinsons were living at Cumberland, northern England near the poet Words worth town of Cockermouth. Dickinson was a Sheriff of his county,he went to Rugby and Cambridge and his son went to Rugy. Mrs. Dickinson was a remarkable hostess.In the evening we would sit near the fire place and chat. She would see to it I ate my biscuits and had my tea to my satisfaction!
At the morning breakfast table,she would see I am served a full course! When I visited these two families in the late Fifties there were house servants, even secretaries to serve the masters.When we visted them in the late Eighties, servants were hard to get,they said and yet, at Lord Traherne the old Olive was still serving her master faithfully after Lady Traherne passed away.
Fuzz and certain excess is etiquette!
It is all Westernisation,you should know!
No country,no people or no cluture can be said of lacking in manners or good behaviour.But what I mean is basically a Western, modern,developed,culturally and in terms of civilization values far advanced nations and cultures have evolved what we strictly call etiquette and manners.