Other Side of the Mirror: The Asian expat nod of dissent

Bikram Vohra

By: Bikram Vohra

It is the most subtle and effective weapon in the Non Resident Indian arsenal.

I live in the Gulf with 2,967,000 other Indians and we work with people of all nationalities, including the British. The imbalance in salaries between them and us are evened out by the use of our secret arsenal. The same one that lost them the jewel in the crown.

The Great Indian Nod or the GIN, as in Djinn or genii. Same impact. And as devastating as a Stinger missile. Perfected and refined over centuries, the Indian nod has subalterns and burra sahibs in paroxysms of agony as they try to figure out whether we mean yes or we mean no.

What is crystal clear to us in each swing of the head is a complete mystery to the Brits and, to this day, is the single largest reason why they seek succour in ‘g’ and ‘t’ at lunch or run about chasing dogs in the mid-day sun. It is also the generic root of the English habit of saying “I say,” because they haven’t a clue what we are saying when we nod.

All over the Gulf such scenes are repeated every day.

“So, Ramaswany, do you think this is a good idea?”

Swing head left to right in slight elliptical mode.

“Is that a yes?”

Head shakes like enthusiastic terrier after a bath and then does a few figure eights.

By then Cuthbert Dickenson is crying into his files and looking for a dash of Gilbeys so he can dive into it.

Over here, in the Gulf, we do have more exquisite situations where Indians have Brits on their staff.

So, the boss calls them in, sits them down and then goes into his nod routine, a nod here, a nod there, some more nods and a general closing the meeting nod which has Her Majesty’s citizens in a bit of a quandary.

Off they go for lunch and John says, “That was a yes, wasn’t it?”

“No,” says Nick, “it was a maybe.”

“Rubbish,” says Robert, “it was a definite no; if he was saying yes, he would have gone right to left, he went left to right.”

“True,” says John, “but if you remember last week he nodded in slow motion east to west and we all thought it was a yes, but what he really, meant was, he didn’t think the idea would fly.”

Now, while all this is going on between the Brits and us in the offices, the nod turns into a missile when handed to all the support staff, thousands of whom also reside in the Gulf. Houseboys, teaboys, messengers, drivers, onsite laborers all nod away the sanity of their bosses with maddening regularity.

“Will you pick up madam from the school?”


“Did you pick up madam from the school?”

Nodnodnodnodnodnod and shake of head.

“Don’t worry I’ll pick her up myself.”

Most mystifying to the Westerners is how we understand the inflection in each nod.

My friend Neil is constantly confused.

“Teach me,” he says, “please, pretty please.”

“No way,” I say, “that’s how we keep you blighters in place, it is our secret weapon.”

“Feel like a game of squash,” he says, already defeated.

I nod. A little shake of the head, a dip and a whirl of the neck.

He sighs.

“Is that a yes,” he says, “or can’t you make it?”



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