Do you use emojis? If so, how?

Published on Oct 08, 2021 12:07 AM IST

By Shoba Narayan

There is an emoji that has baffled me for a while and it goes like this: 🙌

I couldn’t figure out if it was a peace sign or a clapping sound.  When I went to look for its meaning in google docs, it said, “person raising both hands in celebration.”  That didn’t seem quite right.

I discovered the truth while walking around my building.  “Arya, what does an emoji like this mean?” I asked earnestly, raising my hands to imitate the emoji.

“Oh, aunty, that’s a high-ten.  Or a high-five,” the ten-year-old said immediately.

I stared at this curly-locked kid with a cricket bat.  “Arya, will you be my emoji guru?” I asked supplicantly.

Flabbergasted about the prospect of him being the guru to an adult, the kid simply stared at me.  “What do you mean?” he asked finally.

“Well, there are so many hand gestures.  I want to be appropriate, you know.  Be cool….”  I drawled off.

There is one thing more pathetic than an auntie who is not cool, and that is an auntie who ‘wants’ to be cool.  So I cleared my throat, opened my phone, and pointed to a raised fist emoji: ✊

“Like what does this mean?” I asked.

“What do you think it means?” Arya asked in reply, looking like Miss Pushpa, my high school teacher. 

“Well,” I said. “I think it means, ‘I am going to punch you,’ or something like that.”

“Aunty,” exclaimed the kid and laughed in that cackling way that little kids do.  He called out to the other Lilliputs with their balls, bats and stumps. “Hey, look, da.  Aunty thinks the raised fist means punching,” he said.

Suddenly, a crowd of kids were gazing at me, like I was a Harappan civilization relic.  One kindly kid with glasses and a football glove came forward.

“The closed fist means, ‘I am with you.’  Like you know. ‘We are in this fight together.’  Not punching.”

Solidarity.  That’s what it meant.  I sighed.  Clearly, I was in kindergarten and had a long way to go.  So I changed the topic.  

“What about smiley faces?  There are so many versions,” I said.  “I don’t know when to use the one with tears, one with the tongue sticking out, one with the wink….”

“When all else fails, just put the vomiting one: 🤮,” said little Naomi.  “That’s the one I use the most.”

“And I use this:🙏,” I said.

I was immediately pronounced ‘lame,’ even though there is no ‘lame’ emoji.

Emojis were invented for the smartphone. They are a way to express emotions without having to use your face. A lazy way to reply in my view, like you cannot even be bothered to type in the words, “Thank you,” or say “That’s wonderful,” when a friend says she got promoted. Instead you send a thumbs up emoji:👍, which perhaps is the second-most used emoji after 🙏 for Indians.

That said, emojis are versatile and this is the reason I use the ‘namaste’ emoji. In a school class WhatsApp group, what do you do when a school mom sends information about some charity that she supports? You cannot call her a show-off, or tell her not to hijack the group with her posts, or that you don’t care about her constant charity efforts. So you send this: send this: 🙏. Katham: finished.  

Emojis also help alleviate what can come across as rude.  When you want to be curt or assertive, the best way to do so, even with your boss, is to tell them off and then put a smiley face at the end.  “You know.  I feel that this strategy is totally the wrong approach to the product we are trying to market 😊.” And there, you have just sent a mixed marriage, much like we spouses do in our marriages.  “Sweetie, I think your friend is such a bore so please leave me out of that dinner. 😍”

My problem is that I am fed up with sending the same four emojis for all messages.  I want to diversify. For a long time, I just chose emojis that looked inviting without really thinking about what they emoted.  Which was how I came to the realization that like many things in today’s India, we can claim that we invented the emoji thousands of years ago.  How, you ask. Think about our Indian mudras, and the emotions that our dancers portray.

“Aren’t dance mudras like emojis?” I asked my dancer friend, Madhu Natraj. “After all, they convey emotions through gestures, right?”

“Well, dance does that and more,” she replied. “But yes, mudras or hasthas depict objects, express emotions, create situations and limitless other possibilities.”

And in front of my delighted eyes, I witnessed a dancer’s mobile face convey the nava-rasas– the nine emotions. 

Emoji inventors no doubt watched the pliable face of an Indian dancer, froze it on a frame, and came up with illustrations that convey emotions. Ergo, an emoji.

The place where I use emojis a lot is Facebook.  There is a wonderful line in Jane Austen’s classic book, Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Bennett, the father, says, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Facebook for many of us is exactly that.  Admit it, how many of you spend time scrolling through Facebook so you can scoff at your “friends,” to laugh at their antics, the self-consciously stylish photos they post, the model-like poses they strike? Like the father said, we live to make fun of our friends.

What do you do when an acquaintance who is a friend on Facebook posts a photo of her in some random cocktail event? You think she looks horrific in that ill-fitting dress? You send a kiss-kiss emoji: 😚

What about that male colleague of yours who posts a photo of him wearing sunglasses on a beach? You burst out laughing at his pretensions.  Guy thinks he is James Bond, you mutter.  Look at him trying desperately to tuck in his beer-belly. But you cannot say that.  So you send this: 💪 

At least, that’s what I think you should send, but I have to check with Arya.  

Speaking of which, I have an emoji class to go to.  Arya and the Lilliputs are waiting to explain the nuances of the cat and monkey faces, so I’d better not be late, or I won’t hear the end of it.  

See, I am making progress with this very appropriate emoji: 🙉



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