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Thursday, February 19, 2015

No Public Displays of Affection

When we were dating, I was surprised to hear my future husband say, "In my country (India), only old people hold hands in public." At the time I thought that was rather odd, if not absolutely sad. Over the years I came to see that it is generally true. While friends commonly hold hands with friends of the same gender, the palms-together 'namasthe' (both 'hello' and 'goodbye,' also known as 'namaskaram' in Telugu) eliminates the need for men and women even to shake hands. Of course, riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, a common whole-family mode of transportation, necessitates holding on. But, as a rule, there should be no public display of affection between genders:  That's right, it's the rule in India; in fact, that's the law.

So what happens to February 14th, that annual invitation to be romantic? Valentine's Day in recent years has brought out demonstrators pro and con. For more on the frenzy brought on by Valentine's Day in India, check out articles and readers' comments on the subject in the Los Angeles times <>
and several related articles printed in the <Hindustan Times> earlier this week.

(Hats off to Arvind Kejriwal, the new Chief Minister of New Delhi (recently trouncing his opposition with a stunning win of fifty seven of the sixty seats available, versus three  for the runner up and a humiliating zero for the rest, including the long-reigning Congress party).  Kejriwal not only promises reform with the support of Aam Admi,' his 'common man's party" ("your average Joe's party," as Wikipedia puts it), but (gasp, and publish it in the headlines) has hugged his wife publicly as he celebrated his victory.)

This, in a country where such 'shows of affection' are taboo. And, unfortunately (a too-understated word), un-punished and often heinous rapes are daily occurrences.  A country, many of whose majority-religion's stories, art and icons are decidedly sensual, even sexual.

A confusing and conflicting milieu indeed.

Meanwhile, for us, decades have passed. Nowadays we find ourselves a pair of tentative older adults, frequently having to make our way over rough ground, uneven sidewalks and thresholds, or through busy crowds, instinctively reaching for each other's hands.  A passerby or two may glance, or offer a helping hand up steps, but (so far) nobody has reported us to the police. For holding hands.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

May I take leave?

We think we have a corner on prolonged-leave-taking, with what we call "a Minnesota Farewell", but some of the departures I've experienced in India take it to a new level.  Our Christian friends there often send us off with a blessing, reading the scripture starting with "Unto the hills I life up mine eyes, from whence cometh my help...," (Psalm 121), before a prayer for traveling mercies..

Hosts insist we stay,when we say we are about to leave.  More food, chai (!), more conversation, more time, maybe even more people, if any have not come home yet, are proffered.  People delight in giving (presenting is the preferable word, here) gifts, either to the host (at the beginning) or to the guest, in which case it may not be proffered until a move to depart has been made.  Then, of course, one must stand (or sit) and talk some more, to be polite.

Another reason departure may be delayed, even though we are done-done and heading out the door, is an unexpected delay for virtually any reason.  Though I've never asked, (should I?  would you?) there seems to be a taboo related to interrupting a departure, exceptions being things  mentioned in the last paragraph.  But, having forgotten something, having to go back into the house for any reason,  and we find ourselves talking and waiting some more time...I don't know, maybe it's just taking the precaution of stopping to think whether we have everything and are really ready to go?  It might not make the situation appear very different from the "Minnesota Farewell," but, for some reason, this particular 'phase' of farewelling is more pronounced, here in India.

Until we beg off with a traditional, "May I take leave now?" which is used in both casual and polite conversations.  I personally think it's a polite version of "Okay, enough now, I really have to go."       The polite host will wind up the conversation and move with the visitor to the door, enquiring (if they haven't done so before),what means we have for a ride home: bicycle, auto rickshaw, taxi, car.  If they have the time and means, they may insist on seeing us home, or if we are  taking an auto rickshaw or taxi, on calling the vehicle themselves.

It is still traditional for hosts to accompany us to the railway station, even purchasing a 'platform ticket,' and waiting with us until ( or to ensure that) the train arrives, and seeing us and our luggage settled into our assigned compartment.  Although passengers' names, ages and seat assignments are posted on the side of the train car, there are might be last minute riders or those hopeful of an upgrade, sitting in our seats or occupying our berths.  The conductor, of course, has the list and the last word.

In any case, the traditional Telugu word for good bye is "vellirandi, or vellandi," a compound word meaning, literally, "go and come back"  (akin to the Minnesota 'come again'). It is distinct from "po," another word for "go" which could be understood as dismissive, insulting, or 'talking down,' depending on the situation. To :"vellirandi," the response is, "Vell'asthanu,"  "I'll return," accompanied by that typical waggle of the head that indicates agreement.

Or, to say it even more politely, graciously, with the aformentioned ending that indicates respect and politeness: 'andi,' which can handily be added to any sentence.  Until we finally just have to go.

May I take leave now?