The episode of Rahul Gandhi’s alleged “flying kiss” in Parliament is more grotesque than picaresque. Whether the Congress leader blew a kiss or not is not clearly visible, but the spectacle of a mighty government latching on to this wafer-thin stick, seemingly to deflect attention from the open wound that is Manipur, makes for painful watching.
Rahul Gandhi has been accused of misogyny, by those who had been deafeningly silent when women wrestlers were protesting sexual harassment in the national capital, or when that horrific video from Manipur had a nation aghast. Those seeking to berate the “misogynist” Rahul Gandhi have quickly blamed his conduct on the “culture of the Gandhi family”: a family that comprises, apart from him, his mother and sister.
It is a reflection of the love-less and humour-less times we live in that the “flying kiss” is at the centre of sleazy political one-upmanship. But for those of us who came of age before the advent of smartphones, the uniquely Indian term of “flying kiss” remains evocative in a very different way.
In the West, the act of throwing a kiss into the air is called blowing a kiss. But that does not come close to capturing the freedom and soar of a “flying” kiss. In the narrow and hemmed-in streets of small towns, a kiss sent flying to the beloved carried a sense of promise, of daring, and the slightest note of delicious scandal.
Anyone who has been in love when smartphones hadn’t been thought of and “hanging out” was unthinkable will remember the thrill of a flying kiss, sent over to a balcony, across a classroom, from the opposite side of a road. It was public yet intimate, momentary yet momentous, fleeting but etched permanently for the sender and the receiver. Great acts of love and revolution have been recorded by a flying kiss sent across, caught, and “tucked” into the heart.
Caught in the act of sending or receiving, you could face dramatic consequences. But that was just what that kiss was doing, flying over the rules and authorities that sought to pin it down.
In a way, the flying kiss was quintessential young love — heedless, thoughtless, daring, and very sweet.
Now, smartphones have brought their own version of flying kisses, with the four kissing emoticons and countless GIFs and stickers. As with everything else in the smartphone world, the act of sending across a kiss has become warped: ridiculously easy and pointlessly complex.
Does the emoji with the heart near the lips denote a “romantic” kiss? What do the other kisses stand for, then? There are few universally accepted rules. You could send a kiss emoji to a cat video your not-really-close office senior sent you. And then the kiss will remain suspended in that intimate yet walled-off chat window, not quite meaning anything, but being a kiss, never quite meaningless.
Text communication, giving you that essential second to deliberate, brings in its own politics. Does one kiss emoji denote a healthy level of bonhomie or is it too perfunctory? Will three emojis be too much?
The flying kiss, by its nature, didn’t have the time for such indecisions and deliberations. It was unambiguous, a question asked and the answer given, all in one bold moment. It was a line crossed, but not quite a transgression.
The inherent sweetness of a flying kiss is probably why babies, along with saying hello and waving goodbye, are taught to “give a flying kiss” to uncles and aunties.
In an age of hyper-connectivity, the flying kiss may not be that relevant anymore. But the values it stood for — daring, willingness to question authority, courage to stand up for love — remain as urgently relevant as ever.