Thursday, June 23, 2011

No PDA Please- We are Indians!

 
After I have started taking  public transport on my way back from work I have had some very interesting experiences. A couple of days back, as I rushed up the steps of the Kasturba Nagar MRTS station to catch a train, I nearly collided with a young couple leaning on the railings lost in each other. As my aging limbs could not climb fast enough, I missed the train. So I made my way to one of those metal seats to sit out the next 5-7 minutes before the next train arrived.

I looked for a seat which was close to where the ladies compartment was expected to stop- it was occupied by yet another couple- this one holding hands. Suppressing a smile I occupied the other end of the seat. Just as I sat down, another lady made her way to the same seat and asked me to move over to make room for her to sit. I was a little hesitant to move because I would then intrude into the couple’s privacy. “Listen, if you want to hold hands please go somewhere else and do it. Don’t sit like this in a public place” said the lad rudely. Poor things they got up and left the place. “Shameless people” she muttered as she plonked herself next to me. I looked at her curiously. She was middle aged and had all the outwards symbols of marriage. I wondered if she had never held her husband’s hands..?

There was a survey published by some magazine ( I don’t remember the name) which had done a rating of Indian cities based on the extent to which Public Display of Affection or PDA was observed. Chennai ofcourse figured lowest and Mumbai and Pune on the top.

Now, I wonder what is it that makes us so scared to display our affections for a partner in public? Even married couples seem shy to hold hands. But, the question is what defines public? In my mother’s generation anything outside the bedroom was considered public. So, in joint families young couples did not even speak much to each other in front of elders.  Couples who were dating and courting ofcourse did not want to be even observed with each other so the question of drawing further attention by indulging in PDA was out of question!

The city of Mumbai is an interesting variation in this regard. A city where space is a problem and given our intrinsic  cultural discomfort with PDA, the definition of “public” if often equal to “ anonymity” . So, the guiding factor there is that if you are out of your house and neighbourhood it is Okay to hug, kiss and do whatever, because, afterall people don’t know you!! Living in overcrowded tenements with nearly 6 to a room, for young couples in Mumbai, the park, or the marine drive is their island of privacy.

Over the years with more inter mingling of the sexes in urban areas, we see more young couples who are atleast not afraid to be seen together  in public places. I am told that in Chennai along the Marina beach there are police patrols to “break up” couples who may be doing more than holding hands.  The reasons stated being “to prevent prostitution”.  But I am sure every policeman knows the difference between a couple in love and a couple involved in a business relationship. Then why this moral high ground?

I am surprised that as a society we tolerate domestic violence observing it but not intervening to break it up yet when it comes to display of affection we are very uncomfortable.  I remember an incident from my childhood when a man barged into the ladies waiting room at Coimbatore railway station and publicly proceeded to beat up his wife. Not one of the women there except my mother said anything. She was the only one who had the courage to stand up and tell the guy to get out. Yet, there is another incident where a young man was standing close to the ladies seat in a bus smiling and talking to his girl friend. The conductor made some nasty remarks and asked him to move away.

“There are limits of decency” is one comment I hear whenever something like this is being discussed. But what is this so called “decency”? Let us face it, no one is doing more than holding hands or putting their arms around each other when they display their affection for a partner in public.  If you are embarrassed then that is your problem. Often, it is not the act of seeing a couple with arms around each other that embarrasses us but the open expression of their love for each other. We see so much of cavorting, dancing, running around trees and worse in our Indian films yet when it comes to real life we  don’t tolerate it. Why repress some simple expressions of love? Parents don’t feel ashamed to yell at each other in front of their children yet feel shy to put their arms around each other in front of them.

Are we as a society afraid to display happiness? Nothing can be more beautiful than an expression of love. If we have not expressed it let us alteast be tolerant to others who are more spontaneous about expressing it.
 There is a saying “Love and fragrance cannot be hidden”- so why are we trying to do the impossible?

26 comments:

Cloud Nine said...

Dear Meera, nice post, well thought out. But i beg to differ on one ground- personally to me, the limits of PDA don't matter. It irks me at times, when i imagine teenagers witnessing such PDAs might feel more brave in being explicit. We are still a conservative society where sons still don't stand up and argue with their fathers and where daughters are refused Dad's lap once they come of age! I saw my Mother walking a feet behind my father whenever we went out. My husband, though comes close by, never ventures to touch out or hold my hands in public, even after 9 years of married life! I feel, there must be a code of decency in public, the limits of which might vary personally. Else, we will be soon amidst smooching couples and hugging teens which will not go well with our Indian values:) And when you say about movies and its effect on Indian teens, as a society we accapt anything on silver screens, but when it comes to our own kith and kin, we want to see or hear none of it! I hope i am not offending you here...

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Nivedita thanks for your comment. I agree about your concerns on teens. Teenagers see enough on the screen to try and imitate in life. It is upto us as parents to tell them the responsibilities that come with such behaviour. Each one of us has a certain comfort level in terms of expression of emotions. Some societies like the Thai discourage the display of anger as it is seen as a sign of rudeness and weakness. Now anger is a negative emtion so I can understand that but we seem to frown upon display of positive emotions like love!

IRFANUDDIN said...

well, going through all this what you mentioned abt the reactions of the ppl out there, somehow i feel that "are we the nation of PRUDES"???......
or if not so then there are certain ppl who just want their self imposed decorum !!!

PURN!MA said...

Very tactfully put up, Meera! Loved the post! I too have wondered often why it is "bad" to hold hands in public, or put arms around your loved one. When it comes to Pune, it is called the cultural capital. And during days like Valentine's, there are moral police vans hounding the city doing everything possible to break up couples in love. On that particular day, they are not even allowed to be seen together!!! They have even known to have beaten up couples who refused to pay heed to them! I wonder if beating up innocent people is our culture?

When it comes to PDA, I don't see how a simple, loving hug or a peck on forehead is vulgar. I think the latest DK BOSE should be paid more attention to than PDAs! (God! I hate that song!)

As much as you try to "hide" things from teenagers, they have a way to learn everything through sources! Who are we kidding?? We were teenagers once... I don't think PDAs have anything to do with influencing the youth. They know what they got to know... sooner or later!

Ibhade said...

I don't like PDA...very uncomfortable with it.. & over the years of watching your films & documentaries, i have come to appreciate your lifestyle unlike what is obtainable in Hollywood films & the western world..& it would be nice Meera, for such practice to be preserved... nothing wrong in holding hands...but the kissing, caressing is a NO-NO! In a way, this had kept a limit to some vices like teenage pregnancy ... believe me, nothing as sweet as love displayed within the privacy of one's home :D

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks Purnima, Ibhade and Irfan for your comments. @ Ibhade,the public domain is also something that couples are usually themselves conscious of so I cannot imagine anyone doing more than may be holding hands. Teenagers are a curious lot and they try to pick up information from wherever on different things. Often when parents keep away from talking about certain things they get information from their peers - the wrong source!! Issue is about open expression of love of any sort- we cannot tell a lecherous guy to stop leering at our breasts in a public place. @ Purnima completely with you on this moral policing around Valentine's day.

Tomz said...

Nice, thought provoking post..Nowadays we see many youngsters exhibiting PDA in such occasions that u mentioned..

Sudeshna Das said...

Interesting post. I disagree with you a bit here, considering I find it inappropriate when couples make out in public. It just makes me uncomfortable, although I think holding hands and hugging is absolutely fine. I just can't stand the sight of people kissing grossly. :P

Emmy said...

Hmm meera this one post is filled with so much truth. My boyfriend is from Bhopal... we have been dating for two years.... yet he can not put it on facebook that we are in a relationship he can't even let his family know or else they will take his away from me. I do not understand this, he is 23 but not allowed to make his own decisions? He wanted to marry me after college but his family will never allow it... so our relationship is doomed. Our parents claim that they love us so much, but they won't let us be with someone whom we care so deeply about? He is at college in Kanpur that's how he can talk to me, when he is at home he isn't even allowed to talk on the phone. I think it's time for the society to allow us to make our own chances.

confusedyuppie said...

you know I thought I was ok with PDA but when I was abroad we had couples literally tearing their clothes off in trians and my little girl was like 'Why are they eating each other' And I wished i was back in india...

SUB said...

great post...

to me 'bad' is something that hurts someone/something else...how can PDA be bad to sm1 who does not even know the couples. i do not understand why people have so much interest in others life...it is the same people who prefer to ignore the incidents when a girl is being molested by some goons, it is the same people who would not stop their car if they see a girl is being raped...we can be proud of Kamasutra...we can appreciate the sculptures of Khajuraho...we love our gods extramarital affairs...but PDA is a strict no no...it somehow hurts our culture...which culture? hasn't our culture changed over the last 4000yrs...our culture survived because it changed...so why are we suddenly so afraid to change it?

All one needs to teach their kid is the difference between good and bad...once they understand it the teens are smart enough to take care of themselves...

loved your post...

Cheers!
SUB
http://khonjtheeternalsearch.blogspot.com/

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks folks for all your comments. Subhashish, Confused Yuppie, Sudeshna welcome to my blog. I see some interesting trends here. I think I can tell from the comments the age profile :-). For those of you who see my point thanks.The contradictions in our "moralistic" culture are just too much! I think I would like to make a small distinction between PDA and PDL- Affection is something that is a more public emtion that is what I was writing about. People tearing their clothes, kissing etc are best done in private. As I had mentioned earlier couples would not like to do any of this publicly!

varsha said...

Meera what you say hits home.We are decent enough not to object to women being eve-teased, paraded naked,hit and stoned.But a woman sharing some love publicly -that is so Shameful.As a society we (including women) are misogynysts of all hues.

kamalika said...

I too go wit NIVE in this regard. how ever you can watch honey moon Couples at Kodai /OOTy .. where their PDA s go un-noticed...as...
But in a conjested place like chennai and tat too in bussy work Hrs.. do u think we have space for LOVE couple in a rly statioon..

VIKRAM KARVE said...

PDA - okay or not? Well it all depends on the environment around you and what you are comfortable with.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Dear Varsha and Vikram, Welcome to my blog. Thank you for your comments. Varsha you have pointed out an other important factor- about how we tolerate sexual harrassment of women in public but not expression of love. And Vikram as you say it is the comfort level that determines whether PDA is ok or not. Obviously we as a society have low comfort levels on that score.

Rhapsody B. said...

Blessings....
It is resistance to the new way. I don't mind the PDA however some people can take it to extremes, like men with women on leashes (see my post, CONSENTED SLAVE/SHE'S ON A LEASH)or just going at it to the point where you feel uncomfortable as if you accidentally walked into their bedroom. holding hands, the occassional peck, head on shoulder kind of thing is cool beyond that is just too much. I have no desire to see a man grope a woman's breast and stick his tongue down her throat while she moans, yes it happens to that degree at times.

Christopher said...

Hi Meera, thoughtful post again. One argument against PDA that I find very difficult to digest is that it is against our culture. What is our culture? Is urinating on the roads in broad daylight a part of our culture? Is giving and taking bribes a part of our culture? Why do people tolerate those practices and yet suddenly change their stance the moment a couple hold hands?

Or, is it plain envy?

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Christopher I think you hit the nail on the head- it is pure envy.@ Rhapsody,thankfully PDA still remains PDA and not PDL ( public display of lust). So obviously I can understand your discomfort when it crosses to that degree.

Nikhil said...

A very sensible balanced approach kept this post from being judgmental. Thanks for that. And blaming the younger generation or losing faith in them is just a pathetic excuse! We are responsible enough to understand what should be done and what not! There are middle aged men beating up their wives or raping children in this country! i thik we should be more worried about them.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks for your comments Nikhil- exactly my thoughts. Hope to see more of you here.

anish bibikar said...

Meera you hit the nail on its head when you say that we tolerate negative expressions in public like a man beating his wife and feel ashamed of one holds his wife's hand or even hugs or kisses in public.Our society is yet to mature to PDAs and I feel sad to be writing that.

RAZOR said...

when women are raped they do not get any justice but when 2 people are expressing their love for each other it is an offense....This country has a lot of growing up to do....

I HEARD YOU said...

I couldn't agree with you more on this topic! But still I wouldn't even want to watch the kisses on tv when my parents are in the room. And when couples do PDA it seems vulgar. Atleast we all make a comment that either the boy is 'tharki'(yikes!) or we are a perv watching all this.

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Alexandra said...

As a Western woman married to an Indian man, I don't see anything wrong with PDA, I think it just differs culturally. My husband never saw his parents hug or even touch growing up, while I always saw my parents kissing and hugging. I was raised to believe there was nothing wrong in it and it made me happy to see my parents' express their love. My husband and I do PDA out in public, and also in front of our daughter, and she is very happy. By PDA I mean holding hands, and quick kissing, hugs. It seems natural to me. But in India we do not do that because everybody stares!!!

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