The waggle! Why have I lived nearly 26 years without knowing of the Indian head waggle?! It is just marvelous. But what does it mean? No, really, yes, I don’t understand, okay, I do understand, sort of, fine, well… (Imagine a head tilting side-to-side in a series of graceful arcs while remaining in a single coronal plane.) A cultivated skill requiring elegance and well-developed sternocleidomastoid musculature, this nonverbal gesture is simply infectious.
When shopping together this weekend in “Fabindia,” a co-op of contemporary and craft-based Indian garments, I ask the store attendant how to wash the salwar. She pauses. I pause. She leans in. I ask if the salwar can go in the washing machine. She charmingly angles her face perfectly in line with mine, glasses sliding down the bridge of her nose, two inquisitive eyes meaningfully engage mine. And… well… she delicately sways her head, left to right, three and a half times; all the while maintaining her face expressionless. Hmmm… I ponder whether this seemingly gently woven fabric can be spun by a machine or perhaps better by hand? I kindly inquire again. She leans. I am inept at washing clothes, better at dishes. Two faces and four eyes align, glasses slip, this time an upturn of the left corner of her mouth, and then… head oscillation ensues. Entire loads of laundry metamorphosed into a sea of roses when surely I should have learned from the first cherry-dyed dress thrown in with lighter hues. She smirks. Did she hear me? I remain bewildered. Many threads seamlessly entwined. Probably I should wash by hand. Maybe she is mute? Third time is the charm. She leans, faces and eyes secured, glasses skid, and… well… waggling she goes. Perplexed. She giggles. I giggle. There is a human connection. I decide I will wash by hand. Then a tender “yes” sounds… My heart is won over.
This endemic form of body language is like a finely tuned metronome. Brought about by birth. The more vigorous the wobble, the greater the understanding. The more captivating the stare, the greater the affirmation. When slow and soft, an act of friendship—especially when accompanied by a cup filled with chai. I can inquire, but the astonishment lives on.
Driver. Doctor. Cook. Clerk. Patient. Professor. Sweeper. Storekeeper. Guard. Girl. Banker. Boy. All the people waggle. Cultural-socioeconomic-linguistic barriers dissolve. This multipurpose and omnipresent extension of Indian culture unifies this humankind.
Across bustling urban sprawls and destitute distant villages, it disbands distinction. Creates harmony anew. So call it the wiggle, waggle, waddle, wobble, bobble – it is an art form made by the people for the people. Let the Indian head waggle speak!