PDA or Public Display of Affection is frowned on in our society. For some reason young lovers holding hands, hugging or otherwise showing affection in public is regarded as un-Indian. We routinely read or hear about the police and various self appointed guardians of public morality terrorising those who dare to ‘indulge’ in such PDA. I got to thinking why this is.
An article I read in the Sunday Express, What’s Not To Love About Love, was also thought provoking to me. As the writer points out, the birds and the bees display their affection uninhibitedly – it is only natural so why not us? Human beings are social creatures; we have an intrinsic need to express our love and affection for people around us – not only parent, sibling or relative but also friend, lover and significant other. So what is wrong with this?
We embraced Victorian values as our own
I would humbly submit that this prudery, far from being a central tenet of Indian culture, is actually completely un-Indian. This is the residue from a mindset thrust upon us by our erstwhile colonial masters. As one amusing anecdote goes, during the reign of Queen Vitoria the idea of legs being on view was thought so objectionable, that the legs of tables were also required to be covered by tablecloths.
So when the Victorians brought along this prudish mindset we Indian embraced it and alas, continue to embrace it even now. Over time the British themselves abandoned their Victorian mindset and their prudery, but we Indians continued to cling tenaciously to it.
The purveyors of ‘Indian’ culture will have us believe that kissing is somehow indecent; that it is a western concept. The idea that kissing is un-Indian is false. There is some evidence to show that the first reference to a kiss was found in a Vedic text dating back to 1500 BC and that the Mahabharata also makes a mention of kissing. As for our very own Kama Sutra, well, references to kissing abound there.
Public Display Of Affection – We are hypocrites
Somewhere along the way, we Indians become unable to talk about intimacy. As PDA is somehow seen as an acknowledgement that young people want to be intimate – it attracts the maximum ire.
It’s OK for a mother to publicly hug her son or for two friends of the same gender to hold hands but for two lovers to declare to the world that they want to be together by any public display of affection; well that is shocking; unacceptable.
As a country with the second largest and soon to be largest population in the world, Indians are obviously having a lot of action in bed. But talk about it? Acknowledge it? Oh No! How can we? We are Indian!
Very often it is family censure or a simple lack of privacy that causes young couples to look for quiet corners of parks and secluded cul de sacs to spend some time together. Such couples are routinely hounded by over-zealous police personnel who would be far better employed trying to stop actual criminal activity rather than preying on consenting individuals looking to be left alone.
Is there a change in mindset?
The upholders of public morality may rail all they want but the fact is that we see more couples hand in hand, arm in arm and even hugging publicly than we did just a few years ago. The fact is that PDA is a growing trend. This loosening up has many reasons.
One reason is satellite TV entering our homes and telling us that it is OK to be affectionate in public. Then there is the fact that our society has changed and there are more females in public spheres – in colleges, work places and elsewhere and quite simply there is more direct social male-female contact than before.
Then of course there is Bollywood – a defining influence upon India and Indians. The shackles of the censor board meant that until the 1980’s the only way to convey the idea of two people kissing was to show two birds rubbing beaks or two roses coming together in a shuddering osculation. The fact that pre-independence Indian movies did in fact feature kissing scenes is something to talk about another day.
The kiss between Mandakini and Rajiv Kapoor in Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1885) was a milestone of sorts. This opened the door in a sense and kissing become acceptable and then almost routine in Indian films. Witness the phenomenon of the movie with 17 kisses – Khwahish (2003) and the popularity of Emraan Hashmi (better known as the serial kisser).
More recently, when Shah Rukh Khan was seen to kiss co-star Katrina Kaif on screen for their movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan and this was seen to be a bit of a watershed event. This was the first time King Khan kissed on celluloid in his entire film career. The Western press referred to it as a Crossing the Rubicon event – in effect when SRK said it was OK, it is OK for India to do. According to Dr Sanjay Srivastava, sociologist at the Institute of Economic Growth at Delhi University, SRK defines what is mainstream – if he says it’s OK, it must be!
So is the public display of affection Indian or un-Indian? I wonder what the Sri Ram Sene has to say about it.