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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.

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