Protocol and the human touch

A high Mata Amrita Index is like the mythical shepherd-boy crying “wolf”, and devalues the hug.

Recently I was discussing my recent blogpost on the Mata Amrita Index with the wife. Rather, when I had written the blog post, I had expected a response from her, and when none was forthcoming, I mentioned the post to her while talking to her and asked what she thought about it.

Now, before we proceed, I must mention that the wife considers herself to be an expert on relationships (she fancies herself as a “Marriage Broker Auntie“), and on hugging. In fact, if I remember right, one of our earliest intellectual conversations (way long back) was on what different kind of hugs mean in terms of the relationship between the huggers. This conversation had caused some confusion between us the first time we met, regarding protocol, and I had been later told that I had broken protocol.

So given that she’s a domain expert on the subject of hugging, and has a Mata Amrita Index which I think is on the upswing, I asked the wife what she thought about my post on enhancement of the Mata Amrita Index. I somehow expected a “very nice analysis” kind of comment from her, but she chided me. It was wrong that I had looked at something as “sacred” as a hug between two people as a protocol, she said. She went on to say that you hug someone if and only if you feel affectionate towards that person, and that every time I was faced with a question on whether to hug (this is going into Gandhiji’s Talisman territory here), I should ask myself if I feel affectionate, and if I do, go ahead an offer a hug!

So sometime last week I was thinking about this, and was thinking about this one person I know who has an extremely high Mata Amrita Index. Thinking about it, I realised how mechanical our greetings had become, and that though we hug every time we meet (sometimes twice – once when we meet, and once when we par), it has become so ingrained in protocol that it effectively means nothing!

The wife also told me about how the “cheek-peck” has gone the same way in her college. The cheek peck, also known as air kiss, is a weird form of greeting practiced in Western Europe, and which was reportedly invented so that you don’t leave lipstick marks on one another’s cheeks, as you would with a normal peck (the cheek peck is a common woman-woman and man-woman greeting. It’s seldom used between two men). To cheek peck, you touch your cheeks to each other (right cheek to right cheek or left cheek to left cheek) and then kiss the air in front of your lips, thus making a kissing sound! And since you’re leaning, for balance, you hold on to each other, perhaps at the shoulders.

Now, I’m told that the standard convention is that it’s not done every time you meet someone – you cheek peck only once in a while, or when at least one of the parties feels affection towards the other. In the wife’s college, on the other hand, it has reportedly become protocol and you almost have NC2 (N choose 2) cheek pecks every day, since the largely international student body has misunderstood it to be a protocol, while the Spanish themselves hardly cheek peck. So the wife argues that though she ends up touching plenty of shoulders and cheeks every day, it is done so much as part of protocol that it doesn’t count for human touch at all!

So the basic funda is this – when you elevate (or perhaps reduce) a particular form of greeting to protocol, you run the risk of devaluing the effect of the protocol. It is effectively like the shepherd boy crying “wolf”. If we have an unwritten protocol that we hug every time we meet, then soon our hug starts becoming meaningless, and does nothing to bring us closer (metaphorically that is), while a hug is intended to do that! If either of us feels affection towards the other, the hug is no more an instrument that can be used to express it! And restricting our discussion to non-romantic relationships, it becomes extremely difficult to find a means of affection-appreciation superior to the hug, and it becomes an unexpressable emotion!

On the other hand, if there is someone who you don’t hug as part ¬†of protocol, but only do so when one of you feels affection towards the other, the hug retains value, and the touch thus introduced can work its magic (again note that we’re strictly leaving out romantic relationships from our discussion)!

So if you have a high Mata Amrita Index, it is actually not such a good thing, since it removes the hug as a means of conveying real human touch! I’m in full-on admiration to the wife right now for coming up with this theory! And since we’re leaving out romantic relationships out of this discussion, I’m not telling you how I’ll express my appreciation to her!

How do you change Mata Amrita Index?

Over five years ago, I had introduced the concept of the Mata Amrita Index on this blog. Just to refresh your memories, it refers to the probability that a person will hug any random person she meets. You can also define bilateral Mata Amrita Index, which is the probability that a given pair of people hug when they meet.

Now, after I wrote that post I realise that the Mata Amrita Index is a rather cultural thing – some cultures are more predisposed to hugging than others. I, for example, for whatever reason, am quite queasy about hugging and won’t do so unless I know the counterparty quite well. More importantly than the queasiness, I want to avoid the awkwardness when I offer a hug which makes the other person queasy because they are not prepared for it (this happened the very first time I met the person who is now my wife,btw). For others, hugging comes much more naturally, and if such people initiate a hug to me, I’m happy to continue with the process. But with some others I’ve noticed that both of us are not sure if it’s okay to hug and it ends up in a weird handshake while it might have been a hug!

Anyway, the point of this post is whether the bilateral Mata Amrita Index between a pair of people can change over time, and if so, what the conditions are under which it changes. We will leave romantic or hopefully-romantic or possibly-romantic relationships out of this discussion – the human touch works in those situations in completely different ways. So the question is under what circumstances can the bilateral Mata Amrita Index between a pair of people change over time? And let’s be nice on this blog, and discuss only about increase in MAI, not decrease.

So what are the circumstances under which the bilateral MAI between a pair of people increase over time? One is the frequency of meeting. If you meet someone very regularly, you get into a particular routine on how you greet each other – be it a handshake or a hug or a namaste or a feet-touch or a cheek-peck. Since you are meeting each other regularly, both of you remember the established protocol. And both instinctively go for it. Even if you want to change protocol, the other person is so used to it that they continue. And considering that you can’t command someone to hug you (unless you are an “aunty”) you end up sticking to protocol!

If you meet each other infrequently, on the other hand, you are likely to have forgotten whatever protocol existed, and so there is a higher probability of changing protocol, and so there is a chance that you can enhance your Mata Amrita Index. It helps if it’s been so long since you last met that either of you has undergone a culture-changing experience (like moving to a new country, or a new job, or a new school, for example), which can change the way you greet and can use as an excuse if the counterparty objects to your way of greeting.

Then, if you are meeting after a long time and for some reason you have got closer in the interval (in terms of things you’ve spoken about with each other since the last time you met, for example), it is again okay to explore an enhancement of the Mata Amrita Index the next time you meet.

There is also the company you keep. Let’s say A, B and C are meeting. Whether it’s due to their past bilateral MAI, or individual MAI, A and B hug, and then B and C hug. Now it becomes socially awkward for A and C not to hug, so they end up hugging each other, and enhancing their MAI. The next time they meet, this enhancement will be in their mind, and can lead to further enhancement in MAI. This can also work the other way – if you are in a large group and only two of you in that group have a high bilateral MAI, then it becomes awkward for you to hug when everyone else is being all prude and shaking hands. That can decrease MAI.

There is another way the company you keep can end up decreasing MAI. Again, if A,B and C meet, and A-B have a high bilateral MAI. Let’s say that A is meeting C for the first time. Before A hugs B, she evaluates is she is also okay hugging C (since not doing so might be awkward), and that might lead A to not hug B!

This is complicated business! Do you know any way in which the Mata Amrita Index can be enhanced? Or diminished? Do write in!

Hugging protocol at the adjoining table

The Scene:

Couple 1 is seated at the table next to ours along with a small kid. Couple 2 arrive presently


Man 1 and Woman 2 hug each other.
Man 2 and Woman 1 hug each other.
Man 1 and Man 2 shake hands. Man 1 then pulls Man 2 a bit to his side and gives him a half hug.
Woman 1 and Woman 2 give each other a very formal hug and settle down at the table.
Child continues to look clueless.


Woman 2 to Woman 1: Hugging isn’t reserved for the men, right?


Trying to calculate the Mata Amrita Index of each person at the adjoining table, child excluded.

Arranged Scissors 8: Culture fit with parents

That you are in the arranged marriage process means that your parents now have full veto power over whom you marry. Given that you don’t generally want them to veto someone whom you have liked, the most common protocol as I understand is for parents to evaluate the counterparty first, and the “candidate” to get only the people who have passed the parental filter. Then the “candidates” proceed, and maybe meet, and maybe talk, and maybe flirt and maybe decide to get married.

Hypothesis: The chance of your success in the arranged marriage market is directly proportional to the the culture fit that you have wtih your parents.

Explanation: Given that parents have veto power in the process, and given the general protocol that most people follow (which I have described in the first para above; however, it can be shown that this result is independent of the protocol), there are two levels of “culture fit” that an interested counterparty has to pass. First, she has to pass the candidate’s parents’ culture fit test. Only after she has passed the test does she come in contact with the candidate (in most cases, not literally).

Then, she will have to pass the candidate’s culture fit test. By the symmetry argument, there are two more such tests (girl’s parents’ filter for boy and girl’s filter for boy). And then in the arranged marriage setting, people tend to evaluate their “beegaru” (don’t think english has a nice phrase for this – basically kids’ parents-in-law). So you have the boy’s parents evaluating the girl’s parents for culture fit, and vice versa.

So right at the beginning, the arranged marriage process has six layers of culture fit. And even if all these tests are passed, one gets only to the level of the CMP. (given that very few filter down to this level, i suppose a lot of people put NED at this stage and settle for the CMP).

Without loss of generality, let us now ignore the process of boy’s parents evaluating girl’s parents and vice versa (the problem is complex enough without this). So there are basically four evaluations, made by two pairs of evaluators (let us consider parents as one entity – they might have difference in opinion between each other occasionally but to the world they display a united front). Now for each side it comes down to the correlation of expectations between the side’s pair of evaluators.

The higher the “culture fit” you possess with your parents, the higher the chance that you will agree with them with regard to a particular counterparty’s culture fit. And this chance of agreement about culture fit of counterparty is directly proportional to the chance of getting married through the arranged marriage process (basically this culture fit thing can be assumed to be independent of all other processes that go into the arranged marriage decision; so take out all of those and the relationship is linear). Hence proved.

Now what if you are very different from your parents? It is very unlikely that you will approve of anyone that they will approve of, and vice versa. In such a situation it is going to be very hard for you to find someone through the arranged marriage process, and you are well advised to look outside (of course the problem of convincing parents doesn’t go away, but their veto power does).

So the moral of the story is that you should enter the arranged marriage market only if you possess a reasonable degree of culture fit with your parents.

(i have this other theory that in every family, there is a knee-jerk generation – one whose “culture” is markedly different compared to that of its previous generation. and after each knee-jerk, cultural differences between this generation and the following few generations will be low. maybe i’ll elaborate on it some other time)

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

Arranged Scissors 6: Due Diligence Networks

Arranged Scissors 7: Foreign boys