A correspondent has sent me an intriguing news story about an elderly Indian woman who goes around the world hugging people. Amma, the Divine Mother, offers her open-armed blessing to all who queue to meet her. On a good day she can deliver 200 hugs per hour, which is quicker than a cattle rancher can geld and brand his herd. My females hooted with laughter when I told them about her.
“Why don’t those fools come to us?” they jeered. “Our hugs squeeze parts that old women cannot reach!”
“Don’t be so cocksure,” I retorted. “Her embraces have a spiritual quality that yours lack, which is why she is revered as a saint by her followers. All you can do is grope and crush. Don’t forget what happened to that American footballer you tried to get friendly with.”
“He was a pussy!” they barked contemptuously, before wandering off to look for a baboon to molest.
Hugging etiquette in human societies is a fascinating subject. There are so many ambivalent situations where no one is quite sure whether a hug is appropriate. Consider the question of man-on-man hugging. In Latin countries, it is perfectly normal for buddies to greet each other in that fashion, as long as a safe air corridor is maintained between the trousers. But Anglo-Saxon men are only supposed to do it if they’re gay or work in show business. Women, of course, can cuddle like koalas in any part of the world. No one thinks it's foreplay unless there's bumping and grinding going on.
Another interesting grey area is whether pre-pubescent boys appreciate being hugged by women. It seems to depend on the context. My old circus chum, Smacker Ramrod, was sent to an English boarding school at the age of 8. He told me that being hugged by Matron was one of the few consolations of a miserable incarceration.
“She saw it as her duty to comfort homesick boys and would cuddle the ones who weren’t too grubby or obnoxious,” he explained. “Fortunately, I passed the test.”
“How lucky for you, Smacker,” I remarked. “But surely her maternal snuggles ceased when you were no longer a new boy. She wouldn’t believe you were permanently homesick, would she?”
“Yeah, but I came up with other excuses,” he said. “I once got my sister to write me a letter saying the dog had died. That worked like a charm.”
“Good heavens, Smacker!” I exclaimed. “Were it not for the pre-existing canine theme, I would call you a sly dog! Did you not suffer from pangs of guilt in procuring Matron’s motherly embrace through deception?”
“Not really,” he said. “It didn’t do her any harm and it did me a lot of good. Once you get used to burying your face in a woman’s bosom, you do whatever you have to to make it happen again.”
I offered no objection to this pragmatic ethical formula. When a willing bosom makes contact with a willing face, the why’s and the wherefore’s are of minor importance.
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