An elegant Western educated Sobo matron was horrified when she had her first exposure to the Indian male’s clumsy attempt at flirting. “There I was at a seminar, waiting for my turn at the buffet table during the lunch hour when this creature sidles up to me, and in a leering, suggestive way, asks “ are you vegetarian in all ways?” “ I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him,” she says shuddering gently from the horror.
The art of flirting is a lost one in a country where witty repartee, double entrendes and a refined and nuanced sense of seduction had existed in princely courts and literary salons not so many years ago. The net describes flirting as: “a playful romantic or sexual overture by one person to another, subtly indicating an interest in a deeper relationship with the other person, and can involve verbal communication as well as body language.” And there are more websites devoted to the subject than you’d imagine. Unfortunately, very little of it seems to have translated in to real-time expertise. A friend traveling through Europe returned with salutary stories of Italian men and their attempts to seduce her and the gaggle of girl friends she was traveling with.
“Before we even sat down at a café, the waiter would say something outrageously teasing, the guys on the next table would show their appreciation by whistling and the bartender would send over a round of drinks. It was all in good humor, and made us feel ten feet tall,” she says. “What’s best is that if we didn’t take them up on their offer, no one was piqued and took offence. Unlike Indian men —who when turned down — can get nasty.”
Though socio-economic realities dictate how cultures flirt, there seems to be a universal flirting code. Sociologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt found that in societies as varied as Africa and North America, for instance, women employ “the same prolonged stare followed by a head tilt away with a little smile” when they want to convey interest in someone.
In the age of Twitter and Facebook, flirting is often carried out by “sexting”, using the platform of the short message to convey interest and arousal. The convenience of emoticons is often employed by the verbally challenged or inherently lazy for this purpose. Popular culture especially cinema, have demonstrated flirting to being a high art as in what transpired between Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant in Monkey Business and the earthy jousting between Hema Malini and Dharmedra in Sholay.
Unfortunately Bollywood has also gone the other extreme and contributed to the decline of flirting by one too many films in which the hero wins the heroine’s love by making a public nuisance of himself or employing tacky sexual innuendo. “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me — consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected,” alpha male Donald Trump said. Japanese courtesans, we are told, employed a form of flirting that depended on non-verbal communications by covering the lips and displaying eyes, as seen in Shunga art. In Europe a subtle language of flirting evolved around the fan held by society men and women. (Placing the fan near your heart meant, “I love you”, while opening a fan wide meant, “Wait for me”)
According to Haynes King’s Jealousy and Flirtation, flirting may consist of stylised gestures such as: ‘Eye contact, batting eyelashes, staring, winking; protean signals, such as touching one’s hair; giggling, or laughing encouragingly; casual touching; smiling suggestively; sending notes, poems, or small gifts; flattery; playing Footsie; teasing; bantering; coyness, coquettish, or artful playfulness; giving flying kisses and singing love songs. (undoubtedly the Bollywood way!) “I’m just a natural flirt, but I don’t see it in a sexual way. A lot of the time I’m like an overexcited puppy,” said songstress Kylie Minogue. Whereas Helen Rowland held that “Flirting is the gentle art of making a man feel pleased with himself.
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