Thursday, July 5, 2007

My Hands-Holding Partner

In India there is a peculiar social habit that people from the States particularly will notice. When you go out and observe men, you may notice that they are especially touchy-feely with each other. When they walk, they walk shoulder-to-shoulder, very close. They put their arms around eachother frequently. When they shake hands or greet, their hands linger in clasp, and sometimes you see men stroking eachother’s hands, wrist, and fingers in a caressing way. All of this sounds pretty gay, especially if you’re from the States. We joke about it frequently at home. The typical “friends”, both male, walking down the crowded street in India, holding hands or clasping at the finger. But it isn’t gay; it’s a cultural thing. My hypothesis has always been that because Indian society suppresses open physical contact between men and women (e.g. kissing scenes in movies draw held breath), men release the pent up physical/sexual tension on each other. I’m not saying I condone it, but I understand (somewhat related to this is a joke I heard recently about how in India you can “piss” in public but not “kiss”, and it’s the opposite everywhere else in the world. Punchline: so India allows you to take off your clothes to defecate, but you can’t peck a person on the cheek)

At the ashram, I’ve gotten to know one of the naturopathy doctors, Suraj, very well. He’s 23, so we are close in age and the only early 20s people here. And more importantly, we share similar thoughts, morals, inclinations, etc., even though we were brought up in drastically different cultures. Suraj is a straight arrow (like myself), who has achieved much and has big dreams. At the same time he is quite humble and committed to service and family. Very mature for his age by all accounts, and we frequently get into spirited and interesting conversations about our lives growing up, college, friends, social traditions, etc. where we can compare and contrast Indian and American experiences. One of our most interesting insights is that on a cost of living basis, a India is as expensive of a place to live as America. It's only when a person takes American earnings and spends in India do you see the relative wealth jump up an order of magnitude. All this means that if you are earning in Indian Rupees, the cost of gas, food, clothes, etc. is not any cheaper despite the fact that arguably quality of life is worse (i.e. living in Palo Alto vs. living in Baroda). So if you're a young Indian like Suraj, you're saving and earning the same amount in real terms for an inferior quality of life. No wonder many want to go abroad

Anyway, Suraj and I have gotten along very well, and hang out quite a bit. We take our meals together at special times in the day as we both prefer to eat lunch and dinner later then the scheduled time for the naturopathy patients. He's helped me a ton with errands and getting settled, taking me around on his bike. I’ve showed him pictures from home; he's shown me pictures of his ex and described his best friends from college and his family which lives nearby. I’m really glad to have met him and expect that we will stay in touch well after this summer.

Recently we’ve been shaking hands as a greeting and when we part, and I have noticed that he’s gotten a little more touch-feely over time. What was once was a handshake has become a shake with a back pat, and then to a back rub with hand squeeze. The last time we parted, I got the distinct image of Suraj someday trying to hold my hand when we go out. Needless to say, I was horrified. So is this the beginning of my first pseudo-homosexual Indian hands-holding relationship? You never know.

1 comment:

  1. your hypothesis about why Indian males hold hands... is valid. However, another possibility is that men in the Western world SUPPRESS their expression of emotions and affection. Women walking arm-n-arm, going to the bathroom together, showing affection... is okay in the US. While, for men... due to societal pressures, all forms of public expression of affection are automatically labelled "gay". And, I think, us men suffer for it... because we are UNABLE to express these emotions.