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The case in point is this. You’ve turned twenty-three and your community starts pestering your mother on why you aren’t getting married. You’re twenty-four and married and your family begins asking when you’ll have a baby. You’re twenty-five, you have a baby who happens to be a daughter and your aunts start (well) wishing you with a son. Most of the times you want to dodge those blessings as you would want to dodge bullets. Matrix style.

Don’t you just cringe every time you’re attacked with any one of these questions?

“Still single? Oh my god tumhari shaadi nahin huee ab tak?’ from an old classmate you’re meeting after decades. Needless to say she’s the one with the trophy husband and three carat solitaire.

“Family nahin start ki…it’s been years since you’ve been married!” from another old classmate who you’ll bump into. Needless to say she’s the one with a trail of picture perfect kids.

“Still working…shouldn’t you have retired years ago?” from the elderly cousin who is keeping tabs on your age.

“Oh my god, what happened to you? Why have you put on so much weight?” from the cousin you’ve always hated for staying at size zero. She’ll catch you attacking a quarter pounder when she’s on her way to the gym.

“Aren’t you fasting?” a judgement call from all your religious colleagues who’ll assume you’re fasting just because they are. A few of them will even raise eyebrows if you’re missing prayers. Even if your surname is D’Souza.

And the one question every mother dreads: “Didn’t your son apply to KGS this year? Result nahin aaya?” Either you’re waiting for the list to go up and you’re already attached to a ventilator or your child didn’t make it and it’s the last thing you want to talk about. In Lahore this equates to the Aitcheson admission phenomenon.

This list could go on and on because we, as a nation, are such a large hearted race and we love to make the next person’s business our own. It’s in our genes to ask personal questions that no one in their right mind would want to answer. We are overtly hospitable, no doubt (the quality amplifies as you move up north, Karachi being the mega-city inhabited by diverse races) but while most of us see it as every cloud having a silver lining, I would flip the proverb and say that every silver lining has a dark cloud in the background. Our hospitality and humour has a dark side too; it’s almost dark humour at times.

I diversify. The point is that while being politely interested and gracious is a good thing, a very thick line separates it from being inappropriate, invasive and downright rude. That we can so easily hop across that thick line is amazing.

Yes, the whole KGS admission thing always does hit a raw nerve (I’ve been on tranquilizers for the last two months and yes, my son did get in) but it’s everyday probes that become so continuously difficult to deal with. I’d like to believe that every personal question arises from a well wishing spirit but in reality most people probing into your lives are tamaashbeens, secretly deriving pleasure at the expense of your discomfort with the topic in question.

So it just happens that I was recently asked (at a salon, the most invasive of places, mind you) when I was having a baby. I’m fat; there are no two ways about it but for anyone to assume that I’m pregnant is preposterous. Especially since I have two grown up boys now. A friend of mine who was also overweight once said that it’s better to be pregnant than fat and so I played along with the question. Nine months on the way, I could pop anytime I told the girl. Surely someone who I’ll probably never see again could be given the run around!

What do you do when you’re bombarded with personal queries? Be polite and bend over under the weight of answering them, rudely ward them off or just lie shamelessly and get on with life. I think people should stop asking questions they would hate answering themselves, most of which would qualify as harassment anywhere else in the world (except for India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh perhaps). We have inherited a certain level of nosiness in our collective genes but it’s high time these genes were taken to the laundry!

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