‘Touching’ the ‘New Normal’: Unlearning and Relearning Communicative Exchanges

Photo: India TV News

By Swagata Ghosh

In the aftermath of COVID-19, as we gradually proceed towards the ‘new normal’, as the term goes around these days, what I find most worrying is that for a haptics-obsessed person like me, how am I going to greet and interact with people! Being a very touchy, feely person, I often engage in human and humane touches during communication. I barely know of other forms of conveying feelings. As long as I don’t put forward a fine blend of words and a human touch or affectionate tactile components into my interactions, I hardly feel complete in my expressions. Of course, the out and out formal exchanges are left out of purview in the above context.

So far my usual reactions before this crisis have been to shake hands, to give a pat on one’s back, to tap one’s cheek, to ruffle one’s hair, to hold hands, to exchange hugs and the like, depending on the person I’m meeting or interacting with. Hence, more often than not, I have relied on friendly, respectful, humane touches to communicate rather than on words. For instance, I would put my palm on one’s hand or lightly press one’s shoulder to console or comfort someone in pain, or give a tight hug to a friend to congratulate, rather than de-sublimating the moments with words.

More significantly, in our tradition, we carry the culture of touching the feet of our elders on any occasion. In our country we are supposed to touch the feet of an elder on meeting her/him after some time or receiving a gift from them or to wish them on their birthdays, on our birthdays or on specified occasions like Poila Baishakh, Vijaya Dashami and the like. It’s a tradition which I hold with utmost regard, as it trains you from the core to remain humble, no matter who or what you are.

Apart from that, I believe, it’s through a touch that one can often convey as well as cognise the sincerity and the honesty of intent, of events.

Further, quite evidently, we would in a way continue to practise these non-verbal gestures in our family or with our peers and significant others. However, that would be after considerably cleansing and sanitizing ourselves on almost every single occasion. What is causing discomfort on my part the most is that when I’m thinking of losing the spontaneous moments! Say, a child would no longer run to the door and throw a greeting hug to her father welcoming him back from the day’s hard toil. The lover would not be able to plant a spontaneous kiss on his fiancé’s cheek as a mark of apology for not being able to meet up their dinner date on time. Such, and umpteenth fonder, spontaneous, tender moments and exchanges would perhaps be lost forever, at least for a generation or two. We, thus, have arrived at a juncture where we need to unlearn, and relearn our ways and means of expressions.

The world we inhabit these days has as it is ripped us off our natural reactions and expressions, and has infused our verbal and lexical exchanges with certain pre-set emojis and the like, bearing connotations which might well be considered to be acting as rigid designators of some form or the other. I’m using perhaps the same straight-faced emoji to say ‘Thank You’ to my boss, as well as to my domestic help or to the shopowner who delivers my monthly grocery. Thus, the pre-ideation of our emotions and expressions, hardly leaves room for subjective naturalness or spontaneity.

More often than not it occurs to me that the inevitably impending sense of detachment from our spontaneous self, takes a toll on almost all aspects of our lives, and especially in case of our intimate relationships. With our as it is fatigued existence due to work pressure, familial issues, societal obligations and what not, we hardly want to be judged any further. We, thus, try to simply shove things off with some curated expressions and gestures, instead of being our spontaneous self. Isn’t it time that we really look within, and re-ponder over matters? Matters that may truly matter in our lives!

Keeping in mind the hour of crisis, despair and the sheer uncertainty that we all are coping with, and groping through, one that has hit worldwide and at all strata, let us not forget to be careful with the safety measures in leading our ‘new normal’ lives, but let us emerge into that new form of our living with more compassion, understanding and spontaneity in whatever we do. Let us not forget to ‘touch’ the lives of others in whatever way we may, and learn to pour in the much-needed warmth into the fathoms of human existence, be that even with a twinkle in our eyes when we meet someone, overhauling the alienating effect of our ‘masked’ countenance.

Swagata Ghosh, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of North Bengal, West Bengal, India.


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One thought

  1. It’s a beautiful piece of depicting the hard reality we are facing today. The tragedy is that the most difficult thing these days is to keep the simple habits and rituals intact. A new form of life that we never expected, that we can’t get rid of. Appreciate the author for bringing out the present pandemic affected scenario in such a lucid manner, yet being true and analytical.


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