The Absolute Truths of Body Language
A colleague of mine from the Paris office came to visit and stayed in Mumbai for three months. We became friends and I was delighted to meet her again a year later. In conversation about the country she said she had fallen in love with, she suddenly remarked:
There are a lot of gay men in India!I was surprised. We debated briefly on whether this could be possible. I mean, since human beings are fundamentally the same worldover, barring superficial differences of physical appearances, can something as deep-rooted as sexual orientation vary by region?
The debate petered off when it fell into the abyss of 'Why does a person turn out to be homosexual? Heredity? Environment? A deviant childhood experience?' Neither of us had enough information to make a call on that, and true to our analytical roles, we let it drop with a unanimous judgement of 'Data insufficient'.
But I went back to her original assumption later and discovered that it boiled down to a laughably simple point. She said she kept noticing men all over the place with their arms slung around each other's shoulders. At my confusion, she clarified:
In Europe, only gay men do that. Straight men never put their arms around each other that way.It took me awhile to get over my surprise at that to tell her that it was common practice in India among men, straight or not and no one thought twice about it.
It was a telling point. Cultures vary and etiquette's differ. On one hand, the West is a lot opener about displays of affection between opposite sexes. So kissing, hugging and dancing are all regarded as normal where these would raise a few stares in most parts of this country. On the other hand, behavior between people of the same sex is rigidly demarcated in a way that it doesn't even occur to Indians to think about.Continued on the next page