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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Yes, no, maybe so

By Monita Soni

I don't like body language, he told me. To this day I am unsure of what Dr. Collins meant by this statement when he gave me a brief overview of the lymphoma-leukemia service.

Dr. C is a distinguished professor of pathology, a tall Irish gentleman with inscrutable gray-blue eyes and a very reserved manner.
 
I am a tad expressive in speech and affect. I use my hands a lot while talking but never in the course of my extensive medical training anyone else had cautioned me about my body language. I decided to keep a low profile. I talked to my mentor in a soft well modulated monotone and kept my eyes downcast while rendering history and diagnosis. I thought this was being respectful but my buoyant personality would surface from time to time. I would burst into joyous exclamations as he pointed out to subtle diagnostic criteria. At such moments Dr. C would quell my irrepressible enthusiasm by saying: "Hush, we are trying to think here."
 
This memory from my resident days at Vanderbilt Medical Center surfaced after seeing the film "The best exotic Marigold hotel." The movie is rich in humor and sarcasm directed at Brits and Browns in equally generous proportions. I thoroughly enjoyed the dry humor in the colorful, chaotic but charming backdrop of Jaipur, India. 
 
No reference about Indian mannerisms is complete without talking about the celebrated gesture of gestures aka: oblique head bobbing, yes-no combo or the Mumbai roll. The best way to reproduce this interesting circumambulatory dance at the Atlanto-axial joint is to draw a figure of eight or an infinity sign in air with your nose. Try it and don't be afraid at the multiple clicking-grating sounds your cervical vertebrae emit, it's obviously not injurious to health because 1.2 billion people have been doing it for centuries.
 
I wonder if there is a practical Vedantic explanation for this non-committal mudra or is it just meant to perpetuate ambiguity?  My Americans friends might read this as:  “I hear you” or “Ok” or an Englishman might say “right,” but my fellow Indians have the freedom to use it as they please: " Hmm, uh-oh, maybe or NO.  Now be patient.
 
Don't get aggravated, remember Dr. C's golden dictum "No body language please". I think Indians use this gesture because they are polite Non-affirmative sissies, or they are smarter than they look and want to leave a squiggle room to get out of sticky situations.
 
So here's my humble advice. Have you heard of the expression: "Don't judge a book by its cover "? Similarly if it's not love at first sight please don't judge an Indian by their whimsical body language, lack of eye contact, funny runaway speech or a feeble handshake.
 
Take your time, get to know them, have a chai latte or mango lassi and then you might be pleasantly surprised.   
 
About Monita Soni:
A pathologist in Huntsville, Alabama, diagnosing cancer in her day job. Reading and writing poetry is a passion that splashes her literally with a sparkling abundance. She is inspired by great twentieth century poets (Robert Frost, Keats, Browning and Tagore) and ancient Sufi poet like Hafiz, Rumi and Faiz. Her writing style weaves eastern and western cultures. You can hear her commentaries on WLRH Sundial Writer's corner.
 

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