One of the benefits of the current pandemic is that it has institutionalised the “Namaste” as a greeting not just in the Subcontinent but all over the world. Here in Nepal, the Namastay has once and for all done away with those awkward moments when, upon meeting female farangs, natives had to decide at the spur of the moment whether they should peck them on the cheek, or just shake hands.
However, is it one peck on one of two cheeks (left one, or right one first?), is it two pecks on one cheek each, or is it going to be three pecks on two alternate cheeks? It was a minefield out there. And what made it even trickier was that these decisions had to be taken within a split second. A slight miscalculation, and things could take an embarrassing turn and create a diplomatic incident.
During pre-Covid days a couple of centuries ago, the Ass once made a complete ass of himself when he tried to land two pecks on the cheeks of the Mexican Ambassador who was expecting only one, and ended up smooching her nostril.
With Covid, all these humiliating faux pas are now a thing of the past. You just namastay folks from a distance of 3 metres with double masks on, and that’s that. None of that messy canoodling, and exchange of virus-laden droplets.
On this matter, our ancients were way ahead of their time. When Prof Vatsayana published his bestseller, the Kama Sutra, he already knew through the grapevine that kissing was unhygienic. Which is why while depicting many imaginative positions for carnal wrestling in his anthology of sex, he never included the actual act of osculation.
Some of the extreme acrobatic moves in his catalogue are now to be found depicted in carvings on the struts and eaves of Kathmandu Valley temples, but in none of them are the protagonists actually administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to each other. And that fellow doing doggie style is actually demonstrating the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Jeez, such dirty minds.
It is the realisation about just how unsanitary this filthy habit is that to this day, the Board of Film Censors of India has banned kissing in Bollywood movies. Paying lip service is strictly outlawed, but the censors have no problems at all with tongue lashing.
And since Nepali cinema copies Bollywood, kissing is frowned upon here too. (Although kissing ass is perfectly acceptable in both cultures.)
And that is why modern acolytes of Prof Vatsayana were so aroused when Richard Gere planted kisses on Shilpa Shetty. Even Nelson Mandela could not control himself and smooched Shabana Azmi on stage. It is clear that some foreigners think they can take liberties with Subcontinental womanhood with such unbecoming behaviour.
This reminds me: we have to double the number of personal bodyguards assigned to President Bidya Devi Bhandari next time she is off on a state visit somewhere. Never know which lecherous celebrity lurking out there is just waiting for an unguarded moment to make his move.