“Apne Ko Kya?”: How Indians Shirk Responsibility


“Apne Ko Kya?”: How Indians Shirk Responsibility

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

As a country, we are always in a hurry: We have no time for each other or for adhering to rules. We drive every day like getaway drivers straight out of Baby Driver and honk as if it’s our fundamental right. Nothing can slow our march against the clock, not even our friends, families, anniversaries, or vacations.

It’s ironic then, that for a people who behave as if every second of our time is as priceless as the Kohinoor diamond, it doesn’t take much to slow us down. Our insanely fast-paced life comes to a grinding halt the minute we witness a public altercation or an accident. Suddenly, time is nothing but loose change. We’ve all seen how comfortably traffic slows down when there’s an accident on the side of a highway or bang in the middle of the road. The same autowallah, who was driving like he had the engine of a Ferrari, pulls over along with the guy who was running late for a meeting and yelling at his Uber driver to break signals. All of us want in on the story; we look around, try to catch someone’s eye, and utter “Kya hua?” in our attempt to be more clued in. Then, if time permits – which it always does – we readily offer needless advice, concern, or commentary. And then we’re off within the next minute, staying true to the famous Indian “Chhod na, apne ko kya?” mentality.

It’s mind-boggling how our interest peaks one minute and in the next, disappears, making way for a kind of nonchalance that’s truly innate. It’s not just accidents or incidents alone — poking our nose in situations that don’t concern us is a national pastime. Even the oldies in our building societies, who sit downstairs in the evenings keep an eye out for anyone entering, exiting, or hanging out with someone they shouldn’t. But what makes this shared curiosity complete is our collective volte-face: The minute we acquire a piece of information, it becomes completely meaningless, prompting another fresh round of “…par apne ko kya?”

Take for instance, the fact that our ears are always alert in public spaces, desperately hoping to catch snippets of personal details of people whom we hardly know. Once we overhear a conversation, we make eyes at the people accompanying us, draw snap judgments about the people, snigger or roll our eyes in accordance with what we’ve heard, and then shrug it all off with an “apne ko kya?”  

In places like Mumbai, where buildings are erected cheek by jowl, people thrive off this very Indian need of peeking into someone else’s living room, but from a distance.

I’m certain that this delicate dance of voyeurism and indifference has originated in India. Because if there’s another thing that Indians love with all their heart, it’s shirking responsibility. And, our “apne ko kya?” mentality is nothing but proof of how far-removed we prefer to be, despite making everything our business. It’s the very reason why Bigg Boss has such unprecedented popularity in our country. It allows us the luxury of looking into the lives of others, which we can shrug off a little later only because it doesn’t affect our lives. For us, it’s not a show but merely an extension of life.

In places like Mumbai, where buildings are erected cheek by jowl, people thrive off this very Indian need of peeking into someone else’s living room, but from a distance. On some days, I’d draw the curtains completely annoyed, but on other days, I’d be indifferent, seeing no harm in his uninvited presence. He may not have interfered, but I was well aware that the dinner table conversation at his house would revolve around what they saw at the dinner table at mine. And be discarded just as easily with the familiar catchphrase.

It’s ultimately a fine balance between interest and disinterest. It swings from the urgency of “Tell me more” to the passive “How does it matter?” If I didn’t know better, I’d mistake it for being almost zen-like. But ultimately, we are all proverbial jackals and the stories we couldn’t latch on to are our own sour grapes. Adding a sneaky “Apne ko kya?” guarantees that it never lets anything dampen our need to be voyeuristic. By shrugging off one, we ready ourselves for our next hunt.

You see, it’s not a bad thing, if we can actually leave it at that. But the trouble is that in most cases, we don’t really shrug it off. Sometimes, it lingers in our minds and we continue chasing the story. To such times I say, “Chhodh na, apne ko kya?”