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Hugs are flavour of the season in Delhi, but not everyone is keen to be embraced

delhi Updated: Aug 01, 2018 12:57 IST
Manoj Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Rahul Gandhi embraces Modi,Delhi tree hugging

People hug a tree to protest against a redevelopment plan inSarojini Nagar in Delhi on June 24, 2018. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

A hug has become the gesture of the season in Delhi, and it goes beyond the embrace Congress president Rahul Gandhi gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month after tearing into his government in Parliament. The national capital has seen several hugging spectacles in recent weeks -- the latest on Tuesday when a band of Congress workers, taking their cue from the party leader, waited outside a gate at a metro station in Connaught Place to pull those emerging into a tight embrace.

And last month, scores of men, women and children put their arms around trees in the Sarojini Nagar neighbourhood that were at risk of being cut down to make way for a government housing project; it was Delhi’s own version of the Chipko movement for forest conservation.

A lot more hugs may be in store for unwary Delhiites; the Delhi unit of the Congress party is planning to extend its “Free Hugs Campaign “

“Our president set a great precedent by hugging the Prime Minister. The title – Free Hugs Campaign -- came from similar drives in foreign countries,” says Aniruddha Sharma, head of the information technology cell in the Delhi Congress, and the man who led the huggers at the Connaught Place metro station, adding that the objective is to spread love.

The ‘ Free Hugs Campaign’ was first started in 2004 by a man named Juan Mann who began hugging people on a busy Sydney street. Unlike Sharma’s objectives of spreading love, Mann had thought hugging and being hugged in return would bring him comfort from a bout of depression caused by personal problems and a feeling of loneliness. “ So, I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words “Free Hugs” on both sides,” he says on his campaign website, which also suggests: “ Make sure to check your local laws before embarking on your Hugathon.”

Sharma said the Congress campaign would be non-invasive. “In fact, in Connaught Place, we stood in a queue, silently waiting for people who were willing to be hugged. In fact, we did not have any Congress flags or cap, and we did not tell anyone we were from the Congress party,” says Sharma, holding forth on the virtues of a silent hug. But the placards Sharma and his men held aloft left little doubt about their identity.

These had messages such as ‘Free Hug’, ‘Say No to Hate’ and also pictures including the now famous one of their party chief hugging the Prime Minister, which has become the symbol of the hugging season. “In CP, it was a kind of test-drive; we wanted to see how Delhiites would receive the campaign. And I am happy to tell you it did receive a good response.”

How many people did they manage to hug?

“ We had not set a target, or kept a count, ” said Sharma, adding quickly, “But I think we must have hugged about 126 people in about one- and- a- half hours.” Those who may have heard of Krishna Kumar of Andhra Pradesh would say Sharma and his team could have done better. In 2016, Kumar set a new Guinness world record for the maximum number of hugs in a minute.

The Congress party’s Delhi unit, inspired by Rahul Gandhi, launched a ‘Free Hugs Campaign’ in the city to spread love. (Sanchit Khanna/HT Photo)

Weird as it may sound, the record is real and official. “Krishna Kumar recently spread the love by breaking the record for the most hugs given in one minute by an individual at a school in Andhra Pradesh in India. The affectionate record breaker managed to embrace 79 different people in just 60 seconds,” says the Guinness website about Kumar, who actually attempted to hug 83 people in a minute. Guinness disqualified a number of squeezes which were more headlocks than hugs.

Unlike Modi’s s fondness for hugging world leaders and the Congress president’s embrace of the Prime Minister, Kumar’s world record did not make the headlines. But last month, the ‘hug-a tree’ movement started by hundreds of tree-lovers in a bid to save the capital’s green cover did. Carrying placards with messages urging the government not to cut trees, the participants hugged the trees that are to be felled for a housing project.

“We would not allow the trees to be felled and like the Chipko movement, we would hug the trees if anyone comes to cut them,” said Verhaen Khanna, an environmental activist and one of the organizers of the campaign. “Chipko movement was so effective 40 years back, and we believe that it is much more important these days; there has been so much environmental degradation in the past four decades since the movement.”

Chipko Movement --- an uprising against the felling of trees -- originated in Chamoli district (then in Uttar Pradesh and now in Uttarakhand) in 1973 under the leadership of environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna. The movement saw thousands of men and women standing around trees, hugging them, holding each other’s hands. The name ‘Chipko’ comes from the word ‘embrace.’ The movement became the inspiration for many environmental movements all over the world.

While most Delhiites are fine with hugging trees, a lot of them take exception to being hugged or being given uninvited hugs. “ A hug is not quite my thing. I often fear the unknown arms coming for me at a gathering, leaving no room to duck. I go often for book launch parties in the capital where I guard against active huggers, whose numbers are alarmingly on the rise, ” says Aditya Sharma, a writer. “A hug is an intimate physical contact which you can have only with someone you have deep feelings and emotions for. But now hugging has become a common greeting, and lost all meaning.”

“Those who are in the habit of hugging should think if the other person is capable of handling the hug,” said Prachi Goyal, an IT professional.Communication experts agree. “Though a hug symbolizes trust and shows the hugger as an open person, everyone has to keep in mind the proxemics, a comfortable space that has to be maintained between two people. I tell people to mind their hugs and not to unnecessarily hug everyone,” said Chirag Singla, a non-verbal communication expert.

How does one know if the other person is comfortable or not with a hug? “For that, we train people in the science of micro expression and dynamics of body language. Hug has a more power than you can imagine; it can put a person in a state of trance. But it has to be used sparingly. ”

Body language experts say that through gestures such as hugs, handshakes, and kisses, politicians, more often than not, communicate and perform in public. According to clinical psychologist Aruna Broota, when you hug an opponent it is often an expression of the desire to put the past behind. “It means let bygones be bygones, let’s start afresh. But in politics, hugs can also be manipulative, motivated, superfluous, and nothing more than a vote-catching device,” she said.

First Published: Jul 29, 2018 11:49 IST