Thursday, April 23, 2009

The American Hug

It has always captured my imagination - "The American Hug" ? Have you ever heard of anything like this? I'm wondering if I'm just creating the terminology now.

On my several trips to the United States I have often been advised from so many of my friends that tell me "hey- don't hug a male friend in public, its like declaring to the world- 'I am gay'." I hated it when some of my own very close friends who would have given me a tight hug in India (like old friends/buddies you know) - refused to be near me when they met me first at the airport. Never mind, I have always chosen to live in my own way, and never cared what the world thought because I knew I was doing it with the right feeling or conscience, yet it is difficult to convince this Indian brain - which has been hard wired over the last 30 years to get conscious when you even hold a girls hand - forget about getting or giving a hug! In America - this is so different!

I had been to the church several times in the last two months, and often some of the old men in the group, when they met me gave me a nice hug and I would so comfortably clasp them feeling good myself. It was a surprising change from the Indian welcome, where I could usually seek blessings from an elderly rather than be treated at par. I remember once when I returned home after six months at IIT Kanpur (staying away from home), and I was feeling so emotional about meeting my father, I cried tears and just hugged him - clasping his huge frame. To my surprise

- and an even bigger one for him, we both felt so awkward seconds later. Internally I felt so stupid for having done that. End of my public display of affection. Period.

In the last few months of my stay, I had occassions to experience the American hug at the church where people feel a little free even with strangers to give a hug. However, once one lady probably in her seventies, met me, and before I would have said Hi, she brought her hands around me and gave me a hug. I had no choice but to welcome it trying to squeeze myself inside so that only a little of me touches her, and respond with a nice smile while putting my hands around her. She felt pleased, I was a little flabbergasted but made sure she did not see that. I had never hugged my grandmother! American hug was however just beginning to rub on me.

One of my office colleague who is somewhere between 35 to 40 years of age, is very fond of "Hello Kitty". And her office is entire decor is in the "hello-kitty" motif … its like her whole life theme is Hello Kitty. She even put a "Christmas" stocking on her window that had a "Hello Kitty" on it. So, I felt I should get her a gift - of course something

Kitty- and then put it in her stocking. It didn't happen until yesterday when I chanced upon a nice keychain, with a torch-light - and it was Hello Kitty. This morning, I went to her office, and gave her the envelope..and she was a little surprised to find me there. She said "Can I open this envelope?". I replied to her why not?
She drews out the key-chain! Not surprising, she was wild about it! "Soooo-Cute" is just the first word..and she mentioned that nobody has done anything like this for her! She says "I will come and give you a hug" and before I would understand she gets up from her seat and give me a hug! I was so consciously aware of her touching me while she gave the embrace but I just let it happen. ( I was only expecting her to be happy - that's all, in fact I came in early to the office and thought I would just leave the envelope and go away. Notice how the guilty Indian mind is just beginning to defend). Me blessed? I'm not so sure! I'm am still to coming to terms that she is a female. However, I have been thinking about that quite often, especially while I'm here in the United States, and have seen it so often?

Because of the Indian culture, I know of so many people who would have missed a comforting hug from a brother or a friend. Why should my culture prohibit me from giving a hug to a friend? While should my body shy away from something so natural to comfort someone and be comforted as well? Why should I feel conscious when I know in my heart of hearts that I'm not doing anything wrong! ..and do you know, when my wife meets me at the airport after a return from the United States (usually that's the only time we are away from each other for long)..she just manages a - "duck hug". That's India there of course!

Maybe there is something better we can learn from the American's the - make-you-so-good-to-feel Hug!

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