Shopping in India and the nature of flirting

The peacock is the national bird of India.

That makes sense. India, like the bird, is colorful and demonstrative, flamboyant and proud.

I learned this today from Farhat Jan, who sold me a lovely ceramic bowl with an inlaid peacock motif. He works at Cottage Industries Exposition in Mysore, which is a great place to buy textiles and other handicrafts.

The quality and selection are very nice, there is no pressure to buy, and Farhat and jeweler Tariq have excellent taste. They will also totally flatter and spoil a lady, bringing her as many cups of chai tea and engaging in as many odd conversations as she pleases.

During my two hours or so in his store, Farhat and I discussed everything from yoga and American running clothes to my daughter’s fascination with the Hindu god Ganesha (the “Elephant God”).

Tariq and I, meanwhile, spoke of American women’s propensity to overthink relationships.

“Do I want to be with him? Do I love him? Do I want to marry him? In India, it’s the other way around,” he said.

I found myself flirting.

Textiles and handicrafts I bought in India

I asked about his name.

“Tariq” means “Morning Star”, he told me.

“And “Knight” is a family name,” I told him, “but you know, it sounds like ‘Night’…”

“And you are the Queen of the Night,” he said.

Innocent flirting, of course. (And barely flirting at all, by American standards.) No need to cause an international incident.

Indian men don’t wear jewerly to signify their marital status, but Tariq said you can tell whether a man is married by his general demeanor.

“It’s in his face,” he said.

Yeah, there’s a joke there. But I could tell. He was married.

In India, the majority of marriages continue to be arranged by the couple’s parents. Novelists and sociologists can debate the merits of these marriages verses the ones we wrestle in Western cultures.

What I’m interested in is whether it’s possible to tell from a person’s general demeanor whether they are involved romantically with someone else. And, for those who are, what makes some capable of flirting innocently? (Or, as Tariq put it – able to “mingle” without being… and as he struggled to find a word I would comprehend, I filled in the blank…”suggestive”.

Is it trust in others’ good intentions? Confidence that everyone will keep the right distance? And trust and confidence on whose behalf?

Tariq, who is Muslim, suggested religion plays a role.

I agree you can tell if someone is married or single, and jewerly is not necessary.

I do think it takes a practiced eye to discern between flirting and suggestiveness. It isn’t about that person as much as it is about yourself and your expectations.

Take the peacock. Scientists are torn, but many believe the beautiful birds to be monogamous in the wild. What’s not up for debate is how those tail feathers work. The iridescent display is derived through the effects of interference; it depends on the light on which they are viewed.

Marital status may show in a person’s face, sure. But there’s je ne sais quoi in the feathers.

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4 thoughts on “Shopping in India and the nature of flirting

  1. You should be writing a column for a national publication. Or, at least the newspaper you write for. Just restating my unsolicited position based on this post. (The actual comment you made at 6:45 was as good an observation as the original post itself.) I hope you are well and miss our conversations. – CB

  2. Very thought-provoking post. Tough topic. Tariq seems like an interesting character.

    Trust is the key ingredient. It helps draw the line between innocent flirtations and being dangerously suggestive. But I dont see many that are built on 100% trust. I wonder if it is even humanly possible to trust unconditionally.

    “It isn’t about that person as much as it is about yourself and your expectations.” — so true.

    • Well, I guess I’d say that motivations may change with seasons, but a person’s nature is pretty much fixed. I think Tariq is a confident, strong person – and his wife must be as well. I felt nothing but sincerity and respect from him, even with a little twinkle in the eye. I’d call that living.

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