Imagine a world where hugs and cuddles are no longer free

From cuddles to tears, everything is for a price in this new lonely world

Picture this: After a long day in office, you come home and get to soak your tired feet in warm water while you sip some strong coffee (or whatever you like). Picture yourself sitting by yourself in your balcony and since you have imagined thus, watch yourself admire the sunset behind the mountains. You can hear the birds chirp as they feed their chicks. This solitude must be so lovely, mustn’t it? Now imagine the same scene the next day and the next and the next… The solitude you once enjoyed is now loneliness, a ghost that doesn’t evoke a smile or an exhilarating sigh.

The solitude you once enjoyed is now loneliness, a ghost that doesn’t evoke a smile or an exhilarating sigh.

This picture is scary, but unlike ghosts and UFOs, we can’t dismiss it anymore. It is haunting so many lives that they already feel lifeless. Yes, that’s how they describe their lives – lifeless!

The world is shrinking, our tech books say. Where are the families, exclaims social scientists. Handshakes are replaced by social media pokes and family dinners are now just a photo op to post on Instagram. Loneliness is a disease and sadly, it is knocking a lot many doors than we can imagine. Mental health therapist Dr Gopa Khan explains that “In developed countries, there are systems in place for elderly people but no systems in place for young and middle aged citizens. That could be one of the reasons why FB, WhatsApp and other social media are very popular, as human beings are social people. Even children without contact and touch fail to thrive and grow emotionally stunted.”

So, can we pay to fill the increasing gaps?

Solitude is a need but loneliness is a threat lurking at our doors, too, and the biggest proof of this threat is the increasing number of professions branching out of this misery. One might rubbish these professionals as “alien to our Indian society”, but as psychiatrist Dr Avani Tiwari puts it, the clock is ticking. “We may be better placed than some, but as globalisation proceeds, it’ll become inevitable for us to face and battle the same situation the world over…. Sooner or later.”

Female leaning against the wall looking down in a hallway
Lonely and sad young girl in the house

Read on if you still think it is just in my mind. Here are some professions that seem to have originated precisely out of a need to tackle this newfound loneliness.

Professional cuddler

Getting a hug or a jaadu ki jhappi is the go-to solution to a lot of problems. Too much homework, go and hug mumma. Feeling depressed because boss gave you a mouthful, go hug your beloved. Food burnt? Hey get a jaadu ki jhaapi and order out.

Back view of caucasian guy embraces her girlfriend
Getting a hug is the go-to solution to a lot of problems

But what if you don’t have those warm hugs to soothe your crying soul? What if it is just you and the balcony, with the birds still chirping in the background? Well, call an expert.

In Tokyo, there are professional cuddlers who you can call on to spend a night with, just cuddling. Yes, they are paid to just cuddle and give the client a sense of warmth and love. Sad? Go get a hug while it is still free in India!

Bridesmaid for hire

Such a profession where bridesmaids need to come undercover for a stranger feels quite unlikely in India, the country where everyone in your extended family and friends’ circle takes long leave for your wedding. But the fact that similar agencies are functioning full-fledged in the UK does scare us a little. We are getting busier, real friends are being replaced by social media friends, understandings are less and misunderstandings mar whatever is left. All this makes us wonder if we are looking at these job options in our country as well. We hope not!

Bride and bridesmaids with pastel bouquets stand side by side
Bridesmaid for hire

Related reading: 10 reasons why I love attending the big fat Indian wedding

Official mourners

In certain areas of Rajasthan, women were hired as professional mourners or rudaalis (female mourners). Although this tradition is now dying out and did not arise due to ‘rising loneliness’ in society, it is quite similar to something that came up in England, a company called Rent a Mourner. As the name suggests, it provides mourners. Yes, when your loved one is no more but you have no love or tears left to be shed for the deceased, you can dial a mourner and feel guilt free.

Yes, it is time the world stands together and starts mourning the death of humane feelings and bonds, and for this one, let’s not call the professionals!

Ash portrait artists

This professional help is exactly opposite of the professional griever and reflects the skewed emotional stability of our society just as much. Ash portrait artists use their skill and carve beautiful artefacts from the remains of one’s loved ones. Once the beloved is cremated, people take their ashes to these artists to create a token of their memories. These creations could be anything from a necklace to a painting. And while it does look like a sweet gesture, it also is a matter of worry for the society.

Creative contemporary painter painting a portrait
Ash portrait artists use their skill

The newspapers are often filled with stories of husband or wife living with their partner’s corpse for days or even weeks. They refused to believe that they had died and continued to live with them without letting anyone enter the house. This reality is both grim and ugly, and says a lot about where we are heading to.

Dr Khan says, “Usually people who have dependent personalities or mental health issues have a very difficult time dealing with loss of a loved one. They are most likely to withdraw into a shell and sink into depression. When we read news of a person living with a deceased body, it shows you the inability to let go or deal with a real loss.”

Related reading: Do we need partners for the silver years?

Human bed warmers

What a hug can’t give, cosying up in bed with your loved one can. After a long stressful day, when you just spoon with your partner and giggle beneath the sheets on a cold winter night, it does take away a lot of your blues. Doesn’t it?

But not everyone is so lucky. So a high-end hotel in the UK has human bed warmers. Just a few hours before the arrival of the guests, these human warmers lie in their bed and give it that warm feel when the tired and jetlagged guest tries to get a quick warm nap.
My heart breaks for the people who need to avail this service. While they get the human warmth, what do they do about the giggles and those mock “you took my blanket” moments that are missing?

Not being preachy, but if you have two filled cups of coffee, someone nudging you every time you leave the bathroom floor wet or screaming when you miss an important date, count your blessings!

Swaty Prakash

From the editor’s desk

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