Handshake,mwuah, aadab or namastey…?
Here’s the basic ground rule, ladies : when in doubt, opt for a namastey. It’s the safest, most hygienic and indisputably the best greeting in the world. Women and handshakes? Naaah. Of course, this is a sexist remark. So, kill me folks. But why would I want to extend my hand and make physical contact with strangers of either sex? Traditional social greetings have gone for a big toss in urban India ever since we discovered the dubious and decidedly dodgy ‘joys’ of mwah-mwahing. Let’s face it, we get our version of air kissing all wrong to begin with. There is enormous awkwardness on display as we clumsily attempt to make lip contact with assorted proferred cheeks ,often of randoms we aren’t likely to ever meet again (strictly speaking, no lip contact is required, it’s more a cheek-to-cheek deal). Consider the downside: noses get in the way, for starters, followed by the whole confusion over left cheek first or right? This dilemma leads to nervous giggles and apologies, with squashed faces and snout- like pouts making for a far from attractive public performance. Take a look at paparazzi shots of our Bolllywood Divas greeting friends, lovers and rivals on the red carpet. Oooof! Such self - consciousness and discomfort on display. The fact of the matter is that social kissing a la Europe does not come naturally to us. It is a comparatively new phenomenon, and we have yet to get the hang of the drill. But does that stop desis ? Bilkul nahi!
The traditional ‘aadab’ ( SRK sticks to it) is respectful and visually attractive. But will the younger lot adopt this form of greeting ? No chance. Like the namastey, the aadab is also considered ‘uncool’ by those who prefer an idiotic ‘Yo’! accompanied by a high five. Try telling college kids to switch, even when they meet friends of their parents in formal settings. They will laugh derisively at the suggestion. Even for people of my vintage,the simple act of folding ones hands when introduced, has all but disappeared. Instead, one has to deal with aggressive chaps refusing to accept a namastey and boldly leaning forward to plant that entirely unwelcome peck on the cheek. I loathe the practice – think of the yucky side effects – beer and biryani breath, the roughness of stubble,slobbering sound effects… who needs that? It is so much more civilized to allow the woman to decide just what level of proximity suits her. Does she want to be hugged by a boor? Make contact with a paunch? Have some desperate chap ‘accidentally’ brush past her chest? No,no,no! Which is why, I admire contemporary parents who have trained even toddlers to greet everybody with a sweet ‘Jai Shree Krishna’.
The right salutations leave a strong and lasting impact. Hats off to the anonymous female Indian delegate who ignored Chinese President Li’s extended hand and stuck to a namastey recently. Do I prefer a super casual ‘Hi Aunty!” to a ‘Namastey Aunty?” You know the answer. I have zero problems with ‘Aunty’. But several with ‘Hi!”And when was the last time you saw today’s super cool bachchas touch the feet of their grandparents, parents and elders to seek their blessings on birthdays, before leaving for a trip, rushing off to an important exam or job interview? I grew up doing just that. And trust me, the emotions generated via that simple gesture were worth the extra few seconds invested in it. Folding hands, bowing ones head in the presence of those who have lived longer years on this earth, instills a sense of humility and respect. It works both ways. You show respect, you get respect. The thing is if you want to catch them young, you also have to teach them young.
Handshakes, I learned from my cousin Usha Bhende, who helpfully forwarded an article on the subject recently, were invented by warriors, for warriors (“ Look! I am unarmed!”). The mwah- mwah as we practice it, must have been a Paris Hilton/ Kim Kardashian brainwave, designed for the cameras. So many of our lovely Bollywood ladies are in Cannes this weekend. I’m betting Vidya Balan will sensibly stick to a namastey, Aishwarya to the royal wave and the others will giddily kiss away. If chumma chumma we must, let’s at least get the protocol in place first. Once? Twice? Or thrice… like the French do it?
Ab sabko kaun sikhayega? Forget it… and stick to a salaam-namastey .