Sign Language

“But then, when will I cut them?”

I had forgotten it was my responsibility to ensure he was able to. Cut them. Blame it on old age.

The question had been asked by the young man sitting next to me and, in all likelihood, triggered by my saying, “this is not the place to be cutting your nails,” after my initial “perhaps you should be doing this at home,” had apparently gone unheard.

The trigger for my statements, in turn, had been the act of this young man casually taking out a shiny nail-cutter, spreading a newspaper on his lap, and starting to carefully chip away at his nails, taking care, as a responsible adult, to not leave any vestige of the activity in the surrounding area. Inside a train on the Delhi metro network, that I now take every day to get to my place of work. And back.

And, after the second statement, since there could not have been any doubt who I was speaking to, as there was nobody else cutting his nails in that coach, or in any other coach is my guess, he had left the nail on the middle finger, perhaps as a fitting hint, half-cut, and looked at me and asked the question. Crossly if my interpretation of his look is reliable.

Then he had looked away, perhaps not noticing my discomfiture as I did not have an answer to his question, and allowing me the luxury of a sigh of relief. But then he had looked right back at me and asked, “Where does it say?”

“Where does it say what” I asked right back, now composed.

“That I cannot cut my nails here?” He had not wasted time. When he had looked away from me, he had quickly scanned the coach to check if I had any basis for my unreasonable demand. Of requesting him to not cut his nails.

I was the deer in the headlights now. I sheepishly looked around, desperately searching for some sign of a sign behind which I might have hidden. I need not have. The young man had done his homework. There was a sign prohibiting sitting on the floor. There was a sign prohibiting smoking in the coach. There was a sign prohibiting eating and drinking. But nothing prohibiting the innocuous act of cutting nails. One’s own.

But he was a reasonable young man. He saw my discomfort and offered me a lifeline. “Has the Prime Minister asked the people to stop cutting nails inside coaches of the Delhi metro in any of his ‘Mann ki Baat’ episodes?”

The nation knows that the Prime Minister had asked countrymen to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. How else could we have known that we ought to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. I recalled, with some guilt, that even from the ramparts of the Red Fort, from where the Independence Day address is delivered, the Prime Minister had so far made no mention of not cutting nails inside coaches of the Delhi metro. How could anyone be expected to know that cutting nails is not be done in the coach of a train on the Delhi metro rail network.

As soon as the train stopped at the next station, I got off, though my destination had not arrived. I was unable to face the young man.

I should have known better. Walking down the platform I was reminded of my interaction, just two days back, with another youngster. This youngster eating in the coach. Did I already say there were signs prohibiting eating and drinking inside the coach? This young lady was eating right under the sign when I pointed this out to her, earning the response, along with a ‘puppy dog eyes,’ expression to go with it, “So when will I have breakfast?” I had looked away, shame-faced, at not thinking about such obvious issues. I may not have been her parent, and she might have been physically a full-grown, independent adult, but clearly I had not thought about when she would have breakfast.

And had continued eating her aloo parathas and pickle which the entire coach knew was of mango, seasoned in mustard oil.

The entire coach now also knew of this old chap who was poking his nose in other people’s affairs. “Can’t you get a mobile phone for yourself?” was the unsaid chorus. “Then you can join us and be brave and nationalistic and patriotic and send out forwards here and there on your mobile, when a criminal incident, usually a murder or rape, catches everyone’s attention and gets reported in the media. But following simple to understand, day-to-day rules in public life? Where do you think you are? Canada? Singapore? In fact, if we discourage breaking simple to understand, day-to-day rules in public life, it might well stifle out more serious crimes that have the potential of catching attention and allowing us the opportunity to be brave and nationalistic and patriotic and sending out forwards here and there on our mobiles. Whose side are you on?”

And that had not been an isolated incident either. A day earlier, I had pointed out the sign to another young man seated next to me and about to bite into his carefully packed sandwiches, to which he had, again with a ‘puppy dog eyes’ expression to match, had pleaded, “I am feeling very hungry.” But, this young man had packed his breakfast and kept it back in his bag. He must be a loser.

I had walked up the stairs and reached the ground level of the station. My mind was made up. I was going to see the station in-charge and request him to put up fresh signs inside train coaches so that decorum is maintained. ‘Do not shave in this coach,’ ‘Do not wash clothes inside this coach,’ ‘All cooking activity inside this coach is prohibited,’ in addition to ‘Do not cut nails inside this coach’ were some I had on my mind. And, of course, ‘Do not rape inside this coach,’ and ‘Murder is not permitted in any part of this coach.’ That would teach them, I hoped.

And that is not all. I would also request him to take away the existing signs like ‘Eating and drinking is not permitted inside this coach,’ since they are not followed in any case.

More pleasant rides on the Delhi metro await us.

Sign Post

The last post, Did I read that sign “write”?, was a copy/paste from an email I received from my friend Jagatjit Singh. It seems to have uncovered hidden wounds and brought back painful memories. People have voluntarily come forward and shared their own traumatic experiences which I have collected together and shared in this post.

From my friend Suprio Sengupta:
Actual roadsign I saw in Mauritius – Humped Passenger Crossing Ahead.

From another friend Satya Dayanand:
Saw one pic somewhere of a bar in Mauritius if I remember right with the sign: Notice: This bar is presently not open because it is closed- Manager. Could not find fault with the logic even when sober…

(Author’s Note: If you have a yen for such signs, Mauritius should be your destination)

From blogging friend Dilip Naidu:
Here’s one from the golf course: A golfer who says he never cheats is also a liar!

From friend Jagatjit Singh, from whose email, which I referred to earlier, I omitted this one:
Here’s another one from a golf course…
1.BACK STRAIGHT, KNEES BENT
2..FEET SHOULDER WIDTH APART.
3.FORM A LOOSE GRIP
4.KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN!
5.STAY OUT OF THE WATER.
6. TRY NOT TO HIT ANYONE.
7.IF YOU ARE TAKING TOO LONG,
LET OTHERS GO AHEAD OF YOU
8.DON’T STAND DIRECTLY
IN FRONT OF OTHERS.
9.QUIET PLEASE…WHILE OTHERS
ARE PREPARING.
10.DON’T TAKE EXTRA STROKES.
WELL DONE.. NOW, FLUSH THE URINAL,
GO OUTSIDE, AND TEE OFF.

(Author’s note: The person who put-up the above sign was perhaps confused between “Tee off” and “Pee off”)

From Carl D’Agostino, one of my earliest blogging friends:
1.The Association Minister unveiled the church’s new fund raising campaign slogan last Sunday: “I upped my pledge – up yours”
2.Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
3 The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.
4. Pot-luck supper Sunday at 5 PM- prayer and medication to follow.
5. This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the church. Bring a blanket and become prepared to sin.
6. Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.
7. For those of you that have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
8. Miss Charlene Mason sang “I Will Not Pass this Way Again” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.
9. A bean supper will be held in the church hall on Tuesday. Music will follow.
10. Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
11. The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
12. Bring you old cast off items for the church who will deliver them to the shelter. Bring your husbands too.
13. At the evening service tonight the topic is “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to the choir practice.
14. Low self esteem support group will meet Thursday at 6:30 PM. Please use the back door.

And lastly, a couple from my own memory. I confess that I did not actually see these signs. I read about them somewhere and, like a painful memory, they have stayed hidden in the dark corners of the subconscious:
1. At a hotel in Tokyo, sometime in the seventies – All the water in this hotel has been personally passed by the Manager.
2. Outside a doctor’s clinic in a street of Rome – Doctor for women and other diseases.

If you are still troubled by more such memories and recollections, share away in the Comments section at the bottom, and exorcise your demons…

Did I read that sign “write”?

While I wait for the creative juices to flow, here is a collection of funny signs I received on email from a friend (source unknown – before the friend I mean) that I enjoyed reading:

In an office:
TOILET OUT OF ORDER……. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW

In a Laundromat:
AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT

In a London department store:
BARGAIN BASEMENT UPSTAIRS

In an office:
WOULD THE PERSON WHO TOOK THE STEP LADDER YESTERDAY PLEASE BRING IT BACK OR FURTHER STEPS WILL BE TAKEN

In an office:
AFTER TEA BREAK STAFF SHOULD EMPTY THE TEAPOT AND STAND UPSIDE DOWN ON THE DRAINING BOARD

Outside a second-hand shop:
WE EXCHANGE ANYTHING – BICYCLES, WASHING MACHINES, ETC. WHY NOT BRING YOUR WIFE ALONG AND GET A WONDERFUL BARGAIN?

Notice in health food shop window:
CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS

Spotted in a safari park:
ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR

Seen during a conference:
FOR ANYONE WHO HAS CHILDREN AND DOESN’T KNOW IT, THERE IS A DAY CARE ON THE 1ST FLOOR

Notice in a farmer’s field:
THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGES.

On a repair shop door:
WE CAN REPAIR ANYTHING. (PLEASE KNOCK HARD ON THE DOOR – THE BELL DOESN’T WORK).

I hope you do too.