Postcards from Gestures~ Rameshinder Singh Sandhu

The loud magic of gestures

In the ongoing fearful Coronavirus times, take any nook of the globe –my home country India’s ‘Namaste’ –the traditional humble greeting has been picked by all, while ensuring one of the most sensitive precautions: ‘social distancing’.

In fact, these times have made the language of gestures –a new norm, integral to our daily socialisation, and they silently do convey everything that words can, often even louder and clearer than them. My cousin, the other day leisurely talking rightly echoed, ‘seems all emoji’s have come out of mobiles, all in action everywhere.’

Join me some months back, while I was waiting with large number of worshippers for the plane to pass from the taxiway at Amritsar airport, to head to the gurudwara there that surprisingly sits between taxiway and the runway –we got bathed in excitement, the moment we noticed the pilot smiling and waving towards us. Instantly, in return –almost everyone waved back, not forgetting the smiles – some even folded their hands to offer the customary greeting. Especially children ebulliently went on telling each other to take note of him, and some elders even picked them on shoulders – more to introduce the pilot than the jumbo sized aircraft. As the plane passed, we began crossing the taxiway with airport’s security, and I wondered how powerful the simple gesture proved.

During my return journey to the village in my car as I came across an elderly man making his herd cross the sleepy road, I waved towards him –imitating the pilot. Within an eye’s blink, I saw the sudden joy running in him. Putting his hand on the chest, and bowing a bit like any Japanese–he successfully unfolded the respect in return.

Nearly a decade back, when I interned at one of the famous hotels in Zurich, our German manager –Michael Stapf, remained highly popular among the staff for his gestures. I personally, remember them, and may remember them forever –much more than his words he rolled out in the daily briefings. He may be just passing through the lobby or restaurant but the moment, he spotted his team members busy helping the guests or even indulged in an intriguing conversation with them, looking at us -he never forgot to present his ‘thumps up’ sign –enough to boost our morale within a New York minute.

Sometimes, he gestured the ‘clap’ too, however far he may be –especially when I tried speaking in German language, the language I was trying to learn. And I did learn –may be because of him. Of course, he also showed the ‘thumps down’, or pulled up a lousy face expression, if he ever needed to, for showing to any of us.

Finally, let me share an interesting anecdote by a mother of a little kid; I recently came across in an old Reader’s Digest magazine in its ‘As kids see it’ section. It reads: “Not too long ago my three –year- old son and I were flying to Toronto. As he passed through security, the metal button on his pants set off the alarm. I explained that he let the guard check him with the wand. The guard was holding his arms wide to demonstrate to him how he needed to stand when my affectionate son ran into him and gave the guard a big hug.” After all, ‘actions speak louder than words’. So true!

The writer is a former staff author of Hindustan Times