Arré Checklist: Decoding the Great Indian Eye Contact

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Arré Checklist: Decoding the Great Indian Eye Contact

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

T

he great Indian nod has had its moment in the sun. It has been the butt of many jokes, it’s made great fodder for viral videos, and Russell Peters has made millions off it. But what about the great Indian eye contact? The poor, forgotten cousin of the head bobble. It is just as mystifying if not more. Making eye contact might be the one thing Indians are worse at than practising safe sex.

Around the world, locking eyes with someone is considered a non-threatening way of greeting each other, but not here. We tend to use the gaze like a weapon. The best way to ruin a good mood would be to walk down a busy street and try and meet the eyes of everyone passing you by.

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The Indian eye contact speaks louder than a thousand emotions. Be it anger, lust, or envy, there’s no emotion that the eye contact cannot convey. And like the Indian nod, it’s time the Indian nazar gets its due as the premiere method of conveying displeasure.

Anger

We don’t look at strangers when we’re happy, we turn to our loved ones, and on most occasions, our phone screens. But when we’re angry and spoiling for a fight, we’ll try to catch the gaze of anybody who is passing us by at the time. The eyebrows are drawn together like Bollywood lovers in a sarson ka khet, and the forehead is ploughed with furrows higher up.

Commonly found in: This is a look you’re likely to catch in traffic from a driver you just cut off successfully. You might also catch this nazar from a loved one when your parents catch you coming home smelling like Old Monk.

Lust

Eye contact between two people who are hot for each other can be a wonderful thing, but when the attraction only goes one way it quickly crosses into the creep zone. This expression is usually accompanied by a slack jaw, with lips that may or not be dribbling a line of drool. If someone is making eye contact with you while bearing this expression and their hands aren’t in their pants, count yourself lucky.

Commonly found in: It’s the go-to look for stalkers and voyeurs across the nation. Women are at the receiving end of this look (mostly), and they encounter it at railway stations, paan shops, bus stops, and mostly every other public place.  

Suspicion

Not all eye contact is intentional. Sometimes, in crowded places, strangers tend to lock eyes at random. When such an occurrence happens, the two people involved quickly avert their gaze. These accidents see a sudden, surprised raise of the eyebrows followed by the pupils darting away to a new field of vision. This is the one-night stand of eye contact, in that it usually leaves you feeling confused and regretful as to why it ever happened in the first place.

Commonly found in: Expect to suffer through suspicious eye contact every time you head out to a crowded bar. It’s also often reserved for single men and women who’ve moved into a new building.  

Jealousy

Jealous eye contact is often mistaken for judgemental eye contact. It comes with a single raised eyebrow and a thinly veiled sneer directed at its subject. Their eyes say “how dare you!” but their hearts say “I wish I could join in…”

Commonly found in: You might find yourself the recipient of the jealous brand of Indian eye contact from neighbourhood uncles for smoking a cigarette in broad daylight, as well as the building aunties, who find your skirt too short for their tastes.

Documenting these diverse types of Indian eye contact is an ongoing voyage, like Charles Darwin’s journey on the HMS Discovery – or as Satyapal Singh would say, a waste of time. I’m just glad I get to wear shades for the trip.

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