Seldom do we sit back and reckon about the plain beauteousness in the little actions and practices we perform as constituents of the society. In actual fact, we have always taken them for granted. When Covid-19 battered our world with all its might, nobody had the slightest idea about losing these very actions and practices that have been crucial ingredients of our lives in the social stratum. Hugs and Handshakes are one of these practices which have been seized away from us.
From the most reassuring ‘bear hugs’ with slaps on the back to the intimidating ‘bone crusher’ handshakes. And from the meek ‘dead fish’ handshakes to the buddy hugs and intimate embraces. Handshakes and hugs are the best-loved social greetings across societies. Alas, they are slipping away.
A hug veritably has ripple effects of caring. When we hug someone it releases oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone. Apart from making us feel the warmth of solace, oxytocin has exhibited tremendous results in reducing the risk of heart diseases. It also conduces the feelings of devotion, trust, and attachment which are vital for us to connect with others psychosocially. A hug has the ability to comfort those who suffer from low esteem and is proven to directly fight the feelings of loneliness. It can provide existential security to someone who is vagrantly drifting. When we hug, receptors in our skin send signals to the vagus (cranial) nerve. This nerve has the ability to slow down the heart and decrease blood pressure, providing a calming effect on us. On top of everything, a Harvard medical school study has discovered that children who are not hugged had stunted growth and poor behavior. Such is our allegiance to hugs that even embracing the inanimate objects like stuffed toys or a pillow alleviates our fear and comforts us.
While shaking hands, a gesture affirming balance, amity, trust, honor, and equitability, comes from the ancient Greeks. Back then, the greeting was used to assure that neither person carried a weapon. There are archaeological ruins that depict Greek soldiers shaking hands. Since then, the handshake has evolved into a global etiquette. By employing a handshake, we greet each other to express gratitude, offer congratulations, or to seal a deal. In sports, shaking hands is a sign of sportsmanship.
Handshakes are even used before meeting and parting. Thus, shaking hands has become a way of life.
Covid-19 has discomfited us and upset the modus operandi of our society. There’s a global run for saving lives. Meanwhile cultural norms, in a time when norms are being obliterated daily, have taken a body blow. As a consequence, handshakes and hugs, which served as a bridge between individuals, are now seen as germ fests and vehicles for spreading diseases. They are now considered inconsiderate and insolent. The most common greetings between people, they are now dying an untimely death right before our eyes.
Social distancing is the new catchphrase and will become a part of the norm for times to come. Even when the threat is gone, people will be cautious about getting too close, and with a good reason. But would there be a substitute as beauteous as a hug or a handshake? Would there be an equivalent of their enigma while the world is looking at social distancing? Will the world ever experience the righteous simplicity of a hug and the accommodation of a handshake?
When Ahmad Faraz wrote “Bebasi bhi kabhi qurbat ka sabab banti hai, ro na paaein to gale yaar se lag jaate hain” or, when Bashir Badr wrote “Mohabbaton mein
dikhaave ki dosti na mila, agar gale nahin milta to haath bhi na mila” they had not anticipated these times. Once clasped by all and sundry, Handshakes and hugs are now dead. Covid-19 has killed them in cold blood.