Thursday 30th October, and our second-to-last day with this company. It’s been a lot of fun working with them – apart from making the effort to take us out at lunchtimes and weekends, they’ve made sure we tried just about every type of local cuisine for lunch, and have been chatty, funny and very eager to please. Today we gave Nisha and Chitra our report first thing in the morning, and they stayed closeted in Nisha’s office till gone 3pm, anxiously discussing the points for improvement. It felt very odd to have so much authority! Meanwhile, we were just killing time – I don’t think there’s a scrap of news or review published in the past twelve hours I haven’t skimmed over. Not a terribly taxing day, but we did get to take photographs of everyone. Back at work they’re compiling a chart of every typesetter employee. Something I’ve noticed: Indian people don’t smile in their photographs. They can be as smiley and chatty as you please on a normal day, but take out a camera and point it in their face, and they’ll put on an expression more appropriate to a grave family tragedy. Margaret and I started cracking bad jokes just before she clicked the shutter, just to make the photos a little less like police mug shots. The exception was Pradeep the copyeditor, whose moustache and flamboyant manner suggests he’d be more comfortable in a top hat and cloak, twirling said moustache round his finger. Cross between circus ringmaster and villain-tying-beautiful-maiden-to-rail-track. He was delighted to be photographed and bounced in the room, carefully removed his pen from his shirt pocket and pulled up his belt, then beamed, moustaches quivering. But he is an unusual case, in more ways than this one. Nisha told me he was once reprimanded while giving a presentation for being ‘too enthusiastic’. The mind boggles.
I’m curious to know the reason for this non-smiling trend. Do they fear that smiling would make them look like they were frivolous with their copyediting? It’s not just professional photographs though. I took a photo of Nalini from the book shop, posing in front of her wall of books. One second she’s creased with mirth about the absurdities of R. K. Narayan, then all of a sudden she’s looking mournfully into the camera lens as though reproaching it for unkind behaviour. The transformation was uncanny. Yesterday we had a look through Nisha’s wedding photographs and she was the same, impassive throughout. In fact Nisha smiles so much normally that I didn’t recognise her at first – it must’ve been a real effort to stay serious for so long, especially surrounded by so many glittery saris. If anyone can shed some light on this, do share.
Incidentally, in return we looked at my wedding photographs, and I was roundly congratulated by all present on my handsome husband. I heartily agreed, and tried not to look too pleased with myself. I dare say I failed miserably.