Marina D’Costa and Romero D’Souza
After the breath taking cultural night, they walked down the street hand in hand. He pulled her towards himself, their foreheads pressed moving down to the tip of their noses and as she was about to kiss him, he stepped back and said, “It is hongi”. Hongi !! she reacted being disappointed. “I thought it was a romantic moment for both of us” she exclaimed. But it was not, it was hongi and he was a Maori. “Hongi” is a traditional greeting of the Maori indigenous community in New Zealand, which is done by pressing one's nose and forehead at the same time to another person at an encounter. In the “hongi”, the ha (or breath of life), is exchanged and intermingled, it is also interpreted as sharing the soul of each other and is considered as to have come directly from god. Through the exchange of this physical greeting, one is no longer considered manuhiri (visitor) but rather “tangata whenua” i.e. one of the people of the land. We were moved with this touch, which got us curious to know other aspects of touch that would really help us dialogue in this world of emotions where words fail.
Touch can be symbolic and non - symbolic. However, symbolic touch can bring power to this abstract concept, which can also be a universal language across cultures. We often write about dialogue in the context of language and words, where one was obliged to talk face to face to the other person to express emotions and concerns. How did we not see this aspect of touch that would be equally powerful to dialogue in silence, especially to explore emotions that are not easy to be expressed in words. Which most of the times are results of no clarity or one can say just a matter of human instinct which has no justification. Viola found that children understand this dialogue of touch. Viola Brody is the originator of the development play therapy approach and also a psychologist, who in her book the dialogue of touch calls capable touching as the core of developmental play therapy, building both the self of the hurt child and his or her appreciation of the nurturing other. It thus makes way for dialogue between them and as the dialogue becomes an organizing force for the child's behaving and relating which in return facilitates healing and maturation.
Let us get as bizarre as we can to explore this idea of touch in dialogue. We have seen nannies talk to babies while massaging them and the baby smiling and responding as if they understood what was conveyed. We can also replace nanny with mothers and see the same response. Are they experiencing dialogue of touch? What about petting a dog, does that also become a dialogue of touch? Giving condolences at funerals with a hug or a kiss is dialogue of touch? Is holding someone close to you when they are in tears is dialogue of touch? Or is making love with someone is dialogue of touch? These questions are certainly going to be an access for us to get into deep dialogue of touch, which may generate uncomforting zones for emotions and experiences that has left us with an impression of many kinds, this can make us feel good or bad or absolutely nothing. There is just no reasoning at times, it is just a feeling and one has to stay with it forever. Should we then call dialogue of touch, a mysterious or magical touch?
When painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath, he chose touch, however, by painting the fingers of God and Adam and leaving a small space between the two, Michelangelo creates a tingling tension, an anticipation of that wonderous moment, as we all wait for God to complete his Creation of Adam. Would that touch complete the god’s love for humanity? The bollywood movie ‘Black’ revolves around a blind and deaf girl Michelle McNally (name of the character), and her relationship with her teacher Debraj Sahai (name of the character) who is instrumental in her education and teaching her words and expressions of music and dance of the outer world through touch since she was eight. One of the lyrics of the song from the movie in Hindi says, “meine chukar dekha hai” which means “I have seen through touch”. When Debraj supports Michelle who is now in her late twenties to understand the happening at her sister Sara’s wedding, he tells her about the couple kissing. The next thing Michelle unreasonably expresses that she would want to experience how it feels to be kissed on her lips and begins to wonder about love which she has not experienced. The teacher kisses her to fulfill her request and moves away from her forever knowing what he has done. What was this touch? Silently it had a message for all of us, a mysterious feeling that touch generates, that can never be expressed in words.
Touch is an essential element of life. It gives one a sense of the presence of the other. It is an experience of the inner understanding, perhaps we can even call it a gift. In dialogue of touch we experience the gift of giving, of sharing, of oneness. Think of a very practical reality when two bodies become one in the act of making love. It is trust, openness, confidence, mutual giving, it is an increasing and growing necessity, we would even call it an exodus of life. The world today depends on touch – smartphones, touch laptops, touch TV, touch companies and products and marketing. It is through the touch on our phone we think we dialogue with someone across oceans, is that really a dialogue of touch? When travelling via public transport one experiences the sense of touch knowingly – unknowingly, consciously – unconsciously, wantingly – unwantingly. The touch of someone waking you up in the morning to someone patting your back to put you to sleep, kissing you good night. Those living in the modern world can experience touch in a negative way like that of those oppressed, suppressed, abused and raped. A society experiences touch when one is struggling, surviving, and feeling insecure. The dialogue of touch leads us to shifting paradigms and confronted paradoxes of life and reality. We know that the “rule of touch” is sensual and sensitive. Thus, it is important to considered cultural and social norms. Let our sharing on touch be an invitation to each one of us as persons, community, nation to discern and determine the approach we have in Dialogue of Touch. It is a phenomenon we still need to explore, for now it is a search manifested in words.
 Viola Brody. 1993. Dialogue of Touch: Development Play Therapy (Master Work Series). Originally published: Treasure island, Fla : Developmental Play Therapy Associates, c 1993.