Dear Desis, If you don’t kiss in public, the British win

How did brown people get so uncomfortable with something so ancient and natural as kissing?

Today I want to address the innocent, yet taboo topic of kissing in honor of Valentine’s Day. The other day I was reading The Independent, and was surprised to learn that some of the earliest references of kissing were found in good-old, prudish India. Historians found Vedic Sanskrit texts from 1500 BC describing lovers “setting mouth to mouth.” I was taken aback because this is very contrary to the modern-day desi mindset that I know.

So how is it that centuries later, whenever you are watching TV with a group of desis and a kissing scene comes on, the aunties in the room suddenly need to “put the kettle on” and the uncles burst into loud random chatter to distract from the program and drown out the mmmmm, mmmmm, slurp, mmmmm sounds.

“Wasn’t that daal great everybody?!” the dad shouted while watching a televised sex-scene with his family on Goodness Gracious Me. I could totally relate.

So how did brown people get so uncomfortable with something so ancient and natural? In the past decade Indian cops have

Erotic sculptures outside the Visvanatha temple in Khajuraho. Photo by Sanjay Austa:

badgered and beaten young couples in parks for PDA, the government fined an Israeli couple 22 bucks for concluding their Indian wedding ceremony with a kiss, and Aishwarya Rai and Hritick Roshan had a lawsuit filed against them for locking lips in Dhoom 2 and “lowering the dignity of Indian women and encouraging obscenity among Indian youth.” Oh, and lets not forget the arrest warrant out for Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty for their seconds long spontaneous onscreen-kiss back in 2007. And poor Amitabh Bachchan never gets to give Jumma a chumma despite singing and dancing for her with dozens of other enthusiastic dudes.

How did we get here? My theory is the British. With their railroads and cricket and buildings and infrastructure they brought along their own British prudery. The thing is, since the colonial days, British culture has evolved. British media is more liberal than American media but in India, British culture of centuries ago is what people want to grasp on to.

For American-born desis, we have to deal with an older generation who also want to hold on to the social-conservatism they left back in the desh. Even if I am continents and decades removed from the conservatism of my ancestors, I am still affected by it. Because it was not normalized in my family or community, I’m uncomfortable showing affection to my poor latke 😦 He has been very understanding though, and actually even related to it. He mentioned that similar to desi culture, conservative Jews also don’t touch in public. If you’ve ever witnessed a horah at a Jewish wedding you might have seen the bride and groom lifted on chairs and holding two ends of the same napkin as a way to “dance” together without actually touching. In those circles acceptable forms of kissing include smooching the Torah for Jews or the floor of a temple for Hindus, but each other? Yuck! Get a room people!

At this point, I’d like to shift from the romance and emotions around kissing to the science behind it. Disclaimer: I took the unconventional desi path and studied the liberal arts in college and am far from being a scientist, but here goes . . . If you think about it, kissing is good for strengthening the brown gene pool. Scientists believe that kissing was a way cavemen recognized both family members and people who were genetically different. By mating with humans who were genetically different they insured their lineage (vital to ancestry-obsessed desis). When two people kiss, they are releasing pheromones and gathering each other’s biological information. In other words, they are exchanging biodatas, no?

When we kiss (the open-mouthed kind) we are sharing saliva, and therefore a shared immune response which simultaneously makes us stronger. I hope that by challenging my subconscious beliefs (that kissing in public is not OK), that I can feel more comfortable and pucker up for the good of future generations of brown people all over this world. I would like to conclude with a poem I wrote this morning inspired by my family and friends in the Desi community, this article, and the late great Dr. Seuss. Hope you enjoy!

A Call to (Kissing) Action
by Ladki

I have never seen my parents kiss.
Not in person, or while in a state of bliss
like photos from their wedding day.
Or in Atlantic City or the Bengal Bay.

They have not kissed in a ferrari
baba in a dhooti, ma in a sari.
Not in America here or India there,
They did not kiss anywhere.

Uncles aunties were the same way
their affection never on display —
Sari-clad aunties said PDA was “rude”
We said, “Mashi! Stop being a prude!”

“If it’s all over TV it must be normal.”
Ashobho meye! You’re not going to the formal!”

The British brought their prudery IMHO
when they colonized India centuries ago.
Once the censor board came into being
Public kissing was shunned, but not public peeing.

The indecency standards are straight-up strange
Backward obscenity laws need to change
where you can use the streets as a loo
but kissing must be kept from public view.

Fight obcenity laws, fight the power
and kiss your ladki in the shower.
Around the house or in a park,
In broad daylight and in the dark.

I’m just offering my two cents.
Love should not be a criminal offense.
Try it! You may like it and you will see.
That kissing the one you love is akin to being free.

Glossary of Bengali terms in post:

ashobho meye – uncultured, indecent girl
chumma – kiss