Saturday, June 14, 2008



The word "Operation" entails so much of uncertainty and fear in our mind that no words can put any balm on it. Today I saw her sitting next to her daughter’s bed, trying to appear as normal as possible। My friend was confidence personified। If she had any doubts or fears about her impending surgery in the evening, she comflauged them beautifully। We chatted happily just like old times as if we have met for our addabazi sessions and soon it was time for me to leave.
Casually I touched aunty’s shoulder just to reassure her and suddenly there was a deafening silence.The room was filled with her silent sobs. She clung to me tightly as if she is holding on to her life. I hugged her tightly for several minutes till her frail frame calmed down. She moved away from me saying she is alright. She was a little embarassed. Feebly she tried expaining to me why she did what she did, as if hugging was wrong behaviour. I reassured her that it was perfectly alright and I do understand. In last 25 years, from the time I know her, this was the first time that we ever touched each other though I have been very close to her daughter and have spent hours together at her place happily chatting away. Aunty has been very much part of those chatting sessions. She has always come across as a very strong, enlightened, empowered , no-nonsense lady. She has been a natural part and parcel of our group.

In meantime the nurse came and drove all of us out of the room and once again I started the ritual of taking leave from her by saying don’t worry. Once again very awkwardly she reached out to me and we were in each others’ arms for several minutes. Her grandson looked away feeling little uneasy at this open display of emotions that too at public place. But both of us were oblivious to his discomfort. This was the first time she was conveying to me that she also needs to lean on somebody just like I have leaned on her several times for emotional support in times of crisis. I have to yet get over this experience .

Several thoughts and memories are clouding my mind. Last year, I had organized a workshop on personality development for my students. There was a session on improving self esteem . One of the girls ,in spite of trainer’s best efforts, just could not muster courage to speak out a word. With the permission of the trainer, I decided to reach out to that girl. That girl’s self confidence was so low that I had to really strain my ears to hear what she is saying even while standing next to her. I casually put my arm around her shoulder while encouraging her to speak. That physical touch did wonders. Gradually the girl started opening up and at the end of it I lightly hugged her as a mark of appreciation. You should have seen the happy grin on her face. I don’t think I can forget that happy look very easily. I was moving towards my seat when I heard another girl, a chatter box, calling out to me. I turned around and looked at her questioningly and she said ,”Miss, mere ko bhi chahiye”. I just laughed and obliged her, thinking what a baby she is even at this age.

I remember in childhood, whenever I saw my parents hugging my younger brothers, I experienced a tinge of jealousy. Even when I was in college, I think I felt happy to fall sick because that was the only time now when my mother lovingly ran her fingers through my hair. I could not tell her that even though I have grown up, but I still cherish her affectionate strokes.
Generally in Punjabi culture, hugging is a way of greeting a close friend or a relative. If the friend or relative is of same gender the hug will be tight embrace and if the relative is a very close relative and of opposite gender a lighter hug may take place or at least the hand will be held, though it is not a shake hand. But in modern times this traditional greeting has given way to saying hello from far away with no embraces, just the hands are held. After marriage, I felt awkward to greet my mother with a hug whenever I met her . Later on I realized that she also felt awkward to tell me that she wanted to hug me but held back because she felt that I may not appreciate it . It was at the time of my father’s death and thereafter that we bonded again in that way . Now I try hugging my son as many times as I can( which is very rare) though he feels awkward.

When I think of it, I feel hugs are good, they relax both the parties . Hugs are needed at every age and not just in childhood. They are needed more in old age as a way of reassurance that these old people are still relevant and accepted in the society. Though one needs to differentiate between mechanical hugs (more as a part of ritual requirement) and warm hugs. Mechanical hugs are disgusting while warm hugs are rejuvenating.

I was looking out for material on non-verbal communication and my observations about hugs got vindicated by following site. God bless these children.