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The simple pleasures of a momentary wink

illus: for TH open  

What we mean by the word ‘wink’ is to close one eye briefly as a way of greeting someone or showing friendliness, affection or sexual attraction, or showing that you are not serious about something you have just said. So you can praise someone and wink at them when they turn their back. Sometimes a friend may talk about something seriously but if he winks at you, it means he is joking. Similarly, winking is used to control interaction to indicate that something is not to be taken seriously or to show a friendly attitude towards the other. A wink may seem to be simply an eye movement, but it is also a facial expression. Since the head usually moves slightly to one side while winking, it is a head movement. However, when you wink surreptitiously there will be no head movement. In fact, the presence or absence of head movement can be a crucial factor in the beholder interpreting the significance of a wink.

Winking accompanied by a short, sharp downward tilt of the head to one side is a useful gesture. It can mean that a statement is not to be taken seriously. It can be humorously conspiratorial, saying, “This is a secret between the two of us.” It can simply be used as a gesture of friendly social acknowledgement.

While studying in a co-educational school, I winked at a girl who was my first love. She winked back. It was a great day for me and I recorded it in my diary. A girl’s wink is like an arrow piercing your heart. In those halcyon days, schoolgirls used to wink at boys and vice versa. However, in the new millennium I hardly see girls or boys winking at each other. Instead, they send short messages to express their feelings electronically. When we winked at girls, the class teacher frowned. But I distinctly remember a jovial young teacher who loved winking girls and boys. He also winked at good-looking girls surreptitiously.

Mobile phones

I have failed to find anyone winking today because they are glued to their mobile phones. When I recently travelled from Sri Lanka to India, I found the same situation prevailing there. It may be that owing to the generation gap and amid technological advances such as smart phones, simple pleasures like winking have vanished. Even some of our elders savoured this playful aspect of flirting. How would you react to someone who dares to blow you a kiss with the drop of a lid? Would you dare to wink back?

The father of a friend of mine was a great winker. He had two winks. One was for his wife, which was a romantic invitation. The other was for his children, which meant “I love you.”

You cannot just wink at someone; you have to do it with panache. There were winking celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Elizabeth Taylor. I still remember the wink Elizabeth Taylor gave Richard Burton in Cleopatra.


I asked a 96-year-old man whether he had received any winks. “Many times,” he said with a smile. “I was flattered when I received them from members of the opposite sex.” Then I asked him whether he still winks. “Yes, of course, I wink at close associates and some of my former students as a way of greeting them. It is tragic that people have stopped winking at others for some unknown reason.”

Then I asked a woman in her eighties whether she still winks. “It’s out of fashion now. Today there are better ways of attracting the attention of others. So I think that winking is somewhat passé.”

Winking at strangers is somewhat risky. Jim Steele, a Sociology Professor at the James Madison University in Virginia, U.S., says winking is safe in office settings where co-workers are allowed to tease gently.

Some famous people wink just to make headlines in newspapers. President George W. Bush did it famously to Queen Elizabeth in 2007. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s infamous wink during a 2014 radio show went very differently.

Psychologists consider the wink as ambiguous behaviour. This is because a wink can be friendly, conspiratorial, flirtatious, lecherous or sinister. Robert Provine, Psychology Professor at the University of Maryland and the author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, describes winking as a distortion of natural behaviour.

An Internet sensation

The emerging south Indian actress Priya Prakash Varrier became an Internet sensation because of her wink that went viral. She has both offended and impressed the Internet with her viral scenes from the film Oru Adaar Love. Her wicked winking won over millions of netizens. Actor Noorin Shereef, who played the female lead in the school romance drama, confessed that Priya’s wink led to her own performance in the film getting sidelined. In 2018, Priya Varrier turned out to be one of the most Googled names in India.

As the generations progress, some simple pleasures like winking are left behind. Sadly, a gesture once popular among people is now flirting with extinction.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2021 4:55:54 PM |

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