Interacting with people

Interacting with people

Chandrashekhar Ojha

Since my job, which I enjoyed for almost four decades, required me to meet people from many professional and social backgrounds, I have been fortunate to visit many homes across the country. These visits have exposed me to an interesting range of parents and parenting styles. In some homes you would be made to watch the performances of the children and appreciate them, in others, the children were not even seen.

In yet others, they will come, greet you and vanish, whereas in some they will help parents in odd jobs. However, what I witnessed in a couple of homes, of late was very different and shocking. In fact, that has made me write this piece.
I had visited a friend in Mumbai and she as well as her husband were in conversation with me and suddenly her daughter barged in, had a mini discussion with the parents and scooted back. For those few minutes, that she was in the room, the girl and her parents also ignored me as if I was invisible or a card-board cut-out.
They returned to me after she left and continued the conversation as if nothing had
happened during that brief pause. I found it strange but thought that there must be
something wrong with that household, but when it happened a couple of times more, in different homes in different places, I realise that this is a new practice.

In the name of safety

This is not a mistake or arrogance of the child but this is a parenting issue, which allows the child to not interact with anyone beyond the immediate circle, i.e. just close family and friends. I think parents encourage such practice with the safety of the child in mind, but the fall-out is very different. It not only makes the child socially awkward and less confident, also more vulnerable.
In our day-to-day lives we come across many people from different walks of life and
interaction with them helps us conduct our lives well and at the same time enrich them.
May it be your house help or CEO, cabby or doctor, store-hands or colleagues, and above all strangers on the street and during commute, who either bring some problem to be solved or solution to a problem, each one adds a different spice to the recipe called LIFE.

As a parent we need to ensure to imbibe many traits in our children, of course without preaching, and making the child a good communicator and socially confident person, is one such thing. A child must also know how to behave when there are people around. The children must be guided to be respectful towards such people, regardless of their financial or social status.
The child might not do so on one’s own but here is the duty of parents to let them realise what is right and ensure that they practice it.

Setting ground rules

I recall my visit to a noted clinical psychology professor’s home years ago in Delhi. We were talking and suddenly her granddaughter barged in with lot of excitement, “Dadi-Dadi, please listen to me first.” But she just received a stern, “First say sorry to uncle.” She tried a couple of times more but the response remained the same and finally she turned to me, said sorry uncle. Then the demeanour of the dadi (paternal grandmother) softened and she was assured that in a couple of minutes the meeting will be over and then she will get a patient listening. Would that child have behaved rudely with anyone later on, I don’t think so. What do you say?
Courtesy and respect of parents in the presence of others is something which needs to be imbibed in children. It’s good that parents are generally very friendly with children now a days and there is no ‘commander’ and ‘follower’ relationship between them. But parents should not be taken for granted and treated as ‘equal’ in all manner.
My heart pains when children misbehave with parents and throw tantrums in public, and parents have to sheepishly defend the child as being ‘naughty’. Even in friendly relationship, the parents should be respected and should hold the ‘last word’ on most things.

Interaction is crucial
There is a beautiful encounter from decades ago, which I will never forget, which had
presented the best example of this to me. We had a stall in the World Book Fair, at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi and a professor from Miranda House came to us with two young boys, aged approximately 12-14, and 8-10 respectively. She was very curious and spoke with me at length about various products and other things.
It took quite some time and both the young men stood there silently, without showing any sign of boredom or irritation. When the lady realised that she had taken up too much time and not bought anything, she urged the boys to pick whatever they wanted repeatedly. But they refused the offer politely saying that they had everything. Finally, the lady bought something for the children of house-help, watchmen and sundry people around. They thanked us in the end and left with bags full of colours for other children happily.

Knowing the world around them
I personally have always tried to encourage my children, who are in their 30s now, to meet people with different backgrounds, interact with them and gain from their experiences. They have spoken to flower sellers and train pilots, vegetable/fruit seller and museum curators, which helped in making them confident and learn a lot about the respective profession and products. In the vegetable/ fruit market, the child would be asked to name the things known and for the rest ask the vendor.
After initial hesitation the interaction will start and the child would learn more about
vegetables and fruits. The conversation would end with the child thanking the smiling bhaji- walah and leaving with a small tomato or banana as return gift. Once while visiting Mumbai we visited Bhuleshwar flower market and my daughter, around 6 then spoke to a lady stringing flowers about different flowers, her work and things like that. The lady gave her a rose smilingly and asked her to come back when she had long hair so that she could offer her a veni or gajra. Last week I was in Bhuleshwar and when I remembered the instance, my daughter recalled the name, ‘Mallika auntie’.
Children needs to be encouraged to interact courteously with guests as well as other people coming in contact as this will, on one hand, give a good feeling to them about the child and parents both and on other will help the child gain wider knowledge and become more confident, better at communication and socially active. Which profession doesn’t need these skills?
And knowing about different things also helps in striking a conversation with people and start engagement. You also appreciate the people for what they do and how they contribute to the society.
Needless to say it will make the children more thankful towards people and humble them. This will make them better children, better citizens and better human beings, in whatever walk of life they ultimately move.

(Extended caption to go with the painting)
It’s a beautiful birthday picture where everything is there – cake, balloons, decoration, gifts and birthday girl, but the guests who brought these gifts are nowhere to be seen. The girl who painted this had a story to share, “I will raise a bomb scare so everyone would leave the party and I will be able to enjoy the cake all by myself and would also get to keep the gifts.” When explored further it was learnt that the parents did not allow the girl to consume delicacies and hence she had too much of craving for it. Through this picture her problem was diagnosed, parents were counselled and the issue resolved in due course.