Last weekend I opened up my very neglected locker – to pick out every single penny stashed in a hurry, so that my family could tide over the rocky cash crunch hampering the daily life of most, no, all of us in India. That is what got me thinking – surely there must be pretty interesting body language insights from people’s behavior as they waited to either deposit their hard earned but unaccounted money into banks or tried to weave a story to somehow magically convert black cash into white. As an inquisitive observer of human behavior, I was out on the streets.
I must first give a background about the technical details of territorial space and how we utilize it in our everyday interaction using body language. Ever observed your own behavior when you enter an ATM to withdraw cash? Are you ever at ease? Remember how frequently you keep looking back to check if anyone else has entered the room, especially when the amount to withdraw is slightly higher than what you usually withdraw? Why are we tensed when we are at a public place trying to carry out a larger than usual financial transaction? It is the same unease we experience when we talk about a confidential issue in a public place, even when we are only conversing with someone we trust.
We all need, what Edward Hall discovered and wrote about long ago, personal space. This is the space at which we are comfortable conversing or interacting with someone. For loved ones, this space is small – I would be at ease if my husband or my child came so close to me that they could hear me breathe. Friends would have to be at an arm’s length and business colleagues around 4 feet away. Strangers and public at large would need to be even farther away to keep us relaxed – our need for public space can stretch up to 12feet. Similarly, a person from a country with less population like Australia would be used to more space around him and feel comfortable only at larger distances. But as an Indian we are used to having people stand close by in most public places. Also, your socio economic status will determine what privacy you are used to. If you live in a house where, as a child, you share your room with two more siblings, your private life is pretty much a shared one. But if you have a room to yourself, you choose what you share with people around you. If you are a boss, you might require that your team stand a distance from you to give you a comfortable personal bubble of space and to establish your dominance. And yes, if you are tensed or worried, you would want even your close ones to stay away from you – suddenly your need for space wound have bounced up.
What has this recent development done to this territorial space we demand all the time – physical, emotional, socioeconomic, racial, and so on? We all stand in the same queue, sharing our stories and troubles with each other. We might be feeling the heat of the sun more than others around us, maybe because we stay in an air conditioned space all the time. We might be worried about what would happen to our business now that we are in the queue and most of our money is in the bag we hold. But today there are no exceptions. We might be holding suitcases of cash, but if we haven’t taken a prior appointment to deposit the same, our need for psychological space with such a large sum of money will no longer be entertained. You might be a branch manager in the bank, meeting only the priviledged few, but today you sit with your team and finish the work to cater to all clients, big and small. Yes, this phenomenon code-named “demonetization” (it even has a meaning!) has caused Indians to shatter all barriers and embrace the situation head on.
And guess what? I expected to see signs of stress like angry eyebrows or collar fiddling, repetitive pacifiers to release stress like foot tapping, nail biting or swaying side to side etc, when people stood in the queue. But all I saw was co-operative managers out of their warm office chairs, helping people in the queue, and relaxed customers waiting patiently for their turn. Maybe we all paniced for the initial few days. But today we hold our ground. Today we stand as one and help each other out. The next 2-3 weeks are going to test our patience as political parties or the rich babus try to prove that this calm is just the eye in the storm. It is going to be up to us to prove our mettle.