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Head wiggling / waggling is something we English just find utterly bemusing. It is also quite difficult to get right as well. Well for this gora anyway who has little or no rhythm in his head and neck regions…this does pretty much spread to other parts of the body, but we will address this under Bollywood dancing at some stage.


In the West we are so accustomed to our rigid up and down for yes, left and right for no, that this general bobbing and bouncing around in front of our eyes leaves us frowning and questioning, “is that yes, or no, what exactly is that”.


Head wiggling is more like when two pariah dogs enthusiastically meet each other in the street with their tails wagging away as they greet each other.


So here are a few explanations*


Firstly the movement: Rotate the chin to one side, about 15 degree and dip the ear. Once complete quickly and smoothly repeat the motion in the other direction. Repeat and carry on for as long as is required. Often for several seconds or longer if you are really getting animated. The essential part to remember is that the movement must seem effortless and smooth.


What can a wiggle get you?


Responding in the affirmative:


If talking to an Indian and you find yourself in complete agreement then you can show this agreement by wiggling your head. Example: a conversation between Bob and Dave (two classic Indian names):


Bob “George Bush is a complete idiot, who has alienated many cultures in the World and propagated terrorism”

Dave does not need to respond by saying “I agree”, he just wiggles away emphatically and they are both of the understanding that they are in agreement that George Bush is a complete arse. Beautiful.


Saying thank you:


Saying thank you in India is much less fashionable than it is in England. However it does not go amiss. A simple wiggle of the head will make this gesture.


Dave “Here is your chai”, he hands Bob his tea.

Bob wiggles away, with no need of opening his mouth.


Acknowledging ones presence:


Normally in the UK a hi, a nod or a small wave will acknowledge your presence. But in India, simply make eye contact and wiggle away.


Making friends:


To say that wiggling your head makes you instant friends with somebody is probably an exaggeration, but it isn’t far from the truth. If you wiggle and get a wiggle back then you are well on route to becoming life long buddies with your fellow wiggler. Apparently though this will not get you a discount in Mumbai’s redlight district, but you may end up with a, not so pleasant, itch.


Disarming people:


Gregory Roberts puts it so eloquently in Shantaram “gradually, I realised that the wiggle of the head was a signal to others that I carried an amiable and disarming message: I am a peaceful man, I don’t mean any harm”


So if there are a bunch of goondas hanging out on the street corner, a little wiggle will suffice in ensuring your safe passage. Though I would ensure that you have practiced, getting it wrong may suffice in getting your head kicked in.


To confuse things even more, apparently there is a difference between North and South wiggles. I have not been North yet, so can’t comment, but I am sure it will take a while to adjust my wiggle.


Furthermore, unlike the pariah dogs and their wagging tails – head wiggling should not be followed up by trying to sniff the anus of your fellow wiggler and then trying to hump them on the street. This, as far as I know, is not an Indian integral cultural norm.


Ref:, Shantaram, by Gregory Roberts




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