Where do the noses go? If an awkward adolescent were to ask this question, he or she would be in excellent company. Ingrid Bergman’s, as a matter of fact. But fitting the noses — and adjusting the glasses and getting stray hairs from the moustache out of the way — have all become easier with greater exposure. Aspiring kissers all over the world can thank television for this. But perhaps there is a little more to kissing, or not kissing, in public than just the terror of breaking a nose. That is why experts of various kinds — psychiatrists, sociologists, psychologists, evolutionary psychologists, doctors of sexual medicine and so on — seemed to have made a point of noticing that kissing is “on the rise in India” in a recent investigation.
The excitement is a little misleading, because it is difficult to believe that these experts would be claiming to know what goes on between couples, married, unmarried, heterosexual or not, behind closed doors. To say that kissing is on the rise in India is a piquant, if shallow, point to make — especially for consumers in the West — about the land of the Kamasutra, that inimitable textbook of love and sex, and the land where 3,000-year-old epic literature too describes mouth-to-mouth kissing. The emphasis should probably lie elsewhere: Indians are kissing more in public and, maybe, unmarried Indians are kissing more in public. There may be some truth in the observation that the public space in India is becoming more accommodating of young love in spite of police bullying and the threats of thugs mouthing ridiculous slogans about Indian ‘culture’. The ‘culture’ — if any is being imitated or followed — is not that of the West as they think, but of the popular Hindi film that suggests ways of dressing, singing, courting and loving to masses of young Indians. The first real kiss on film occurred in 1933, when Devika Rani kissed Himanshu Rai for four minutes in Karma. But, then, Rai was also her real-life husband. The moralism of the Hindi film generally banned kisses on screen till recently, letting visual innuendos do the job instead. But now kissing is easier on screen, not as a routine, but as an expression of passion or deep affection.
The social scene is less arid too. Even if ‘arranged marriages’ are still common, a lot of young people are arranging these marriages themselves, through friends, social networking sites, matchmaking sites. There is both love and the aspiration to love in the air, and the public display of affection is not only becoming common but also beginning to acquire the lineaments of social ritual. Kissing would naturally take its place in the courtship process, becoming more public as the process itself is brought out into the open. The young Indian may have finally worked out where the noses go, but that has nothing to do with how much or how little his parents are kissing when the children are not at home.