Walking over absentmindedly to a colleague who was in town but usually works from home to ask a question in person rather than email or IM, my mind was light years away. Hi! I said cheerily and he rose from his chair to greet me and gave me a rather warm hug. His eyes twinkled. I was jolted into reality. Awkwardly I hugged him back and proceeded to ask my question. Five minutes later at my desk I was mentally berating myself for my awkwardness. I was not sure why I was surprised. Was it because I did not expect to receive such a warm welcome or was it because it was so sudden.
The thoughts took me back to my growing up years. My first ever ‘boy’ friend was my classmate in seventh grade. I was not the social butterfly then that I am today. The most I would talk to the guys in my class would be about lessons and that too if there was no one else I could reach out to. So, one evening when I heard a bicycle bell ring in front of my home, I looked out and distinctly remember feeling worried that my classmate was at my door. I knew he lived in my neighborhood but never really expected him to come home. Smiling awkwardly and wondering what amma would say, I invited him inside. We discussed something about class sitting stiffly around our wooden dining table in the manner shy seventh graders would in my times and he was on his way.
Over the rest of school and college, I went on to make good friends of both sexes but there was an unspoken code regarding physical contact. We would make sure we never really sat too close to each other or linked hands or for that matter hugged. I still remember my FIL being upset with me because the friends who attended my wedding shook hands with me. I remember being perplexed and trying to reason with him.
The past few years away from India saw me go through a “hugging” phase when I would hug most of my friends if I saw them after a long time. It was still restricted to woman friends though. Sitting at my desk now, I wonder how much of the awkwardness stems from the ideals I grew up with but do not agree with now. What does it take to unlearn beliefs imprinted deep in our psyche?
On a related note, I found Usha’s note on feminism very similar to what I think.