By Shals Mahajan
Illustrated by Arunima Bose
I love cuddling.
Cuddling is an insidious delight. It’s a warm, soft, fluffy, comfy, loonngg sigghhh inducing feeling, which is all at once.:
Now of course, some will say, with good reason, that even eating golguppa/panipuri/puchka, will give you two out of the three. I must cavil though that that is an ummmmm rather than mmmmmm pleasure. In any case this (i.e., the panipuri eating) experience is lacking in the sleep department.
Then there is sex. Nobody denies the pleasure of that. And sleep after sex has often that glowy quality to it. If the activities have been somewhat vigorous, then it might also be accompanied by movements which are reminders of owning some forgotten muscles (especially after one has hit the 40s). Then often there is that need for a pee etc break post the event (unless of course it has been part of the activities, but then there is the clean up) . . . .
Which is neither here, nor there.
So while, for some, cuddling might be in the same category of pleasure as panipuri and sex, for me it belongs in a fuzzier category.
For starters, sexual desire needn’t enter into it at all. Or it might, but it is really not a prerequisite.
I guess the only prerequisite, besides the desire to cuddle, whether alone, or with objects, other hoomans or felines, or whatever, is:
1. some sort of surface that must be reasonable, or at least for that moment in time, comfy.
2. Oh, and temperature preferably lower than 36 degrees C, or much less even.
Now I am sure that there are some sentient beings who happily and merrily cuddle away at 48 degrees C with nary a sweat to mark their surfaces, with no strange sticky thwacky sounds that wet fleshy surfaces produce against each other, without sliding off the other altogether. Sadly, I have not yet attained such elegant superiority of being (or endurance). Maybe that’s a professional level.
Me, I am still amateur enough, despite a lifetime of delightful and plentiful cuddles, to prefer weather where if my freezing toes are not precisely warming their while against langorous thighs, at least I am sure of not being tempted to use clothes (mine or another’s), pillows, sheets, unsuspecting soft toys (though they are not part of my kit, I include them here recognising the cultural imperative and primary purpose of such things), and what have you, as wipes for sweaty body parts before pushing them aside.
The whole point about temperature being that you should wish to gravitate towards, and not away from, the other entity in the cuddling transaction.
That sorted, I have to say that now this leaves me wondering where I might place the curious, but perfectly reasonable, summer feline habit I have acquired, of sprawling on cold stone floors under the fan, or pressing myself against a wall that is much cooler than I am at that point. Which is to say:
Q2P 1 (question to ponder 1): Can one legitimately be said to then be cuddling said floor or wall?
Let us now move to clothing.
Here too, in my sadly boring fashion, I hold with those who believe that some clothing adds rather than detracts, from the experience.
I am sure that nude cuddles, or cuddles in the nude, are fun, sexual or non-sexual. But the texture, the heave, the heft of fabric adds a certain sensuousness and gentle pleasure of its own to the heady mix.
Therefore old soft cotton clothes and well used and threadbare (slightly holey) and perfectly weathered sheets; pillows, toys, humans, felines and others who have learned to mold themselves around you and you to them; all of these make good co-cuddlers.
But wait, we are getting ahead of ourselves. So yes we do want soft comfy fabric. And I am sure if your comfort lies in silk pyjamas or polyester sheets, hey go for it! For me it is the softness of the cat’s nose that totally works as a standard.
Now I am thinking though, whether hugging a tree falls under cuddling (and why not? Why do we even have imaginations if we are not going to stretch them?). The tree is not going to be as particular as you about the texture of fabric I think.
Q2P 2: Does one, and if one does then where, draw a line between hugging and cuddling?
I am sorely tempted to go with a simple answer (one that will be deconstructed by a mere raised eyebrow I suspect)– when the vertical act is not enough and the soul begins to seek a lateral or horizontal surface to continue, then one might venture to say that one has shifted from hugging to cuddling.
The idea largely is to find that space of comfort, companionship, and intimacy that is unhurried yet sensual, gentle yet sustaining, and makes one glad to be. Just be.
Now to tackle the sexual/platonic/ambivalent nature of the cuddle.
For some people, the intimacy of cuddling is too intense and they need a long period of association to be able to do so. Others do it only with sexual partners. There are those who refuse to cuddle (though a slip or two might be allowed to happen on occasion). And those of us who cuddle any chance we get. My recent research shows me that tired of seeking only sexual intimacies, there are several people seeking and organising cuddle dos, where strangers come and seek non-sexual intimacy of touch and comfort from other bodies. These organisers are very clear about this being a non-sexual space, for obvious reasons, but all of life needn’t be, and isn’t, so cut and dried.
Like in sex though, much has to be said for knowing oneself as an important part of seeking this pleasure with others. So the importance of cuddling alone, in comfy spaces, with appropriately huggy objects, books included, cannot be overstressed. It is also good to know which smells work for you for the mellow mood, and if you be very artsy, then music and light conditions too might be your thing.
Q2P 3: Does falling asleep with book constitute cuddling with it, the writer/s, or the character/s?
Since no bodily function can be deemed to have been thoroughly examined without an exposition of positions, here’s a brief foray into:
A Taxonomy of Cuddles.
First of all Cuddles may be classified by bodily positions:
1. I Am Your Chamcha or The Spoon
The most common of cuddles, are the spooning ones with many preferences of being the smaller spoon or the bigger spoon, where two people lie nestled into each other – one person’s back to the other’s front. There is here the related factor of holder and holdee and the accompanying discussion whose head on which shoulder.
Sidebar: This and similar positions often also lead to intense discussion on numbness of said limbs, the tendency of short hair to cause tickles and that of long hair to cause “ow” inducing moments, inadvertently or other wise, and for bald heads to be kissed. Ditto foreheads. And other random parts of the body that venture near lips.
2. The Vada Pav or The Sandwich Positions
This is when three entties cuddle together side by side. So your choice of position is between being the bread or tikki, the two halves of the pav or the wada in the middle.
3. HOT (Head On Tummy) also called The T Position
Here, one entity lies on their back and the other lies at a right angle with head on tummy. Very conducive to conversation (haven’t ever done this with someone with six or eight pack abdomens and I wonder if one could bounce one’s head on their muscles?). A variation is with the first party lying on tummy and the other placing parts of self on the back or bum. Cats and dogs and some hoomans really love this one.
4. The Pile Up
Where everyone just, as the name suggests, piles up on each other indiscriminately or as often happens, a prone party finds themselves suddenly inundated with many other bodies. This is always better with three or more entities and quite a success with cats and dogs too.
5. The Lovers in the Garden
Where one lies with head on lap and the other looks lovingly at head in lap and sighs etc,
6. The Octopus
Which may feel mysteriously like many extra limbs are felt wrapping but may just be all four limbs wrapped around you.
7. The Bear
A tight, but loving hold, where moving seems somewhat impossible.
8. The Stranglehold
Where breathing becomes optional.
9. The Absent Minded
More caress than cuddle, it is comforting and familiar. It functions more like a reminder of earlier cuddles and their sustaining quality.
10. The I-Am-The-Mattress
Here one is often pillow and mattress and the joy of it makes you careful to move lest the others be woken from their slumbers. Cats are wonderful at doing this, and dogs, but could also work with other humans.
Cuddles may also be classified by emotion and context:
1. The Friendly Conversational Cuddle: Warm and content, this cuddle is an extension of the intimacy of drinking together and the endless conversations.
2. The Sweetly Aching Cuddle: This is that slightly tough one when one party desires the other but the other is blissfully unaware, or clearly non desiring, but close. So the first party has to be extra careful to ensure the cuddle remains within consensual limits and non-pervy, and might end up with not entirely comfortable but infinitely sweet aches of limbs and heart and other stuff.
3. The Careless Cuddle: Best done singularly with pillows and sheets where one spreads and curls with not a care of throwing the other off or pinching some tender part inadvertently, or smelling a tad ripe etc
4. The Pre-makeout Cuddle: On couch and such slightly upright but with enough room for reclining spaces, this cuddle is slightly awkward, highly erotic, but largely seen as a pre-cursor to other things.
5. The Tele-cuddle: Conducted while watching television. Feet on lap, head on lap, head on shoulder, the variations are endless. This cuddle is an end in itself and suited best for long term cuddlers.
6. The Sudden Crushing cuddle: This is when one party has a sudden rush of affection and leaves the crushed party somewhat dishevelled and bewildered.
7. The Rubik : This is a peculiar phenomenon of long term cuddlers where each limb knows where to go and for how long before numbness sets in. This is a veritable dance of fitting and separating, sometimes bum touching, sometimes facing, and can continue through long periods of time, for example, the whole night.
8. Clingy Cuddles: Where one party does their thing and the other clings and is patted occasionally. Works just fine as long as different styles of cuddling are acknowledged.
9. Persistent Cuddles: These are most often with those feline beings who insist on climbing on your lap (or where ever they want to) n times despite you displacing them n-1 times.
10. Special Mention Cuddle: The wind in hair bike cuddles.
11. The Spirit is Willing Cuddle: Where flesh is not because it is too hot, one is too full, or too whatever to cuddle. So a notional cuddle suffices.
Shals Mahajan is a writer, layabout, part feline, somewhat hooman, queer feminist fellow who lives in Bombay, but mainly in their head. Their published work includes Timmi in Tangles and No Outlaws in the Gender Galaxy.