Social life is an outflow and meeting of personality, which means that its end is the meeting of character, temperament, and sensibility, in which our thoughts and feelings, and sense perceptions are brought into play at their lightest and yet keenest.
This aspect, to my thinking, is realized as much in large parties composed of casual acquaintances or even strangers, as in intimate meetings of old friends. I am not one of those superior persons who hold cocktail parties in contempt, looking upon them as barren or at best as very tryingly kaleidoscopic places for gathering, because of the strangers one has to meet in them; which is no argument, for even our most intimate friends must at one time have been strangers to us. These large gatherings will be only what we make of them if not anything better, they can be as good places to collect new friends from as the slavemarkets of Istanbul were for beautiful slaves or New Market for race horses.
But they do offer more immediate enjoyment. For one thing, in them one can see the external expression of social life in appearance and behaviour at its widest and most varied where one can admire beauty of body or air, hear voices remarkable either for sweetness of refinement, look on elegance of clothes or deportment. What is more, these parties are schools for training in sociability, for in them we have to treat strangers as friends. So, in them we see social sympathy in widest commonalty spread, or at least should. We show an atrophy of the natural human instinct of getting pleasure and happiness out of other human beings if we cannot treat strangers as friends for the moment. And I would go further and paraphrase Pater to say that not to be able to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us, even when we meet them casually, is on this short day of frost and sun which out life is, to sleep before evening.
So, it will be seen that my conception of social life is modest, for it makes no demands on what we have, though it does make some on what we are. Interest, wonder, sympathy, and love, the first two leading to the last two, are the psychological prerequisites for social life; and the need for the first two must not be underrated. We cannot make the most even of our intimate social life unless we are able to make strangers of our oldest friends everyday by discovering unknown areas in their personality, and transform them into new friends. In sum, social life is a function of vitality.
It is tragic, however, to observe that it is these very natural springs of social life which are drying up among us. It is becoming more and more difficult to come across fellow-feeling for human beings as such in our society and in all its strata. In the poor middle class, in the course of all my life. I have hardly seen any social life properly so-called. Not only has the grinding routine of making a living killed all desire for it in them, it has also generated a standing mood of peevish hostility to other human beings. Increasing economic distress in recent years has infinitely worsened this state of affairs, and has also brought a sinister addition class hatred. This has become the greatest collective emotional enjoyment of the poor middle class, and indeed they feel most social when they form a pack, and snarl or howl at people who are better off than they.
Their most innocent exhibition of sociability is seen when they spill out from their intolerable homes into the streets and bazaars. I was astonished to see the milling crowds in the poor suburbs of Calcutta. But even there a group of flippant young loafers would put on a conspiratorial look if they saw a man in good clothes passing by them either on foot or in a car. I had borrowed a car from a relative to visit a friend in one of these suburbs, and he became very anxious when I had not returned before dusk. Acid and bombs, he said, were thrown at card almost every evening in that area. I was amazed. But I also know as a fact that my brother was blackmailed to pay five rupees on a trumped up charge when passing in a car through one such locality.
The situation is differently inhuman, but not a whit more human, among the well-to-do. Kindliness for fellow human beings has been smothered in them, taken as a class, by the arrogance of worldly position, which among the Bengalis who show this snobbery is often only a third-class position.
The word ‘they’ in the first sentence of the third paragraph refers to
Refer to the last lines of the second paragraph:"These large gatherings will be only what we make of them if not anything better, they can be as good places to collect new friends from as the slavemarkets of Istanbul were for beautiful slaves or New Market for race horses."
Here "They" refers to the large gatherings of casual acquaintances as illustrated in these lines.
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