Updated on: Saturday, November 20, 2021, 10:40 PM IST

The Hungry Happy Hippy: Poker face on... Reading subtle cues through body language

We let on and take in much more than we realise. Whether you’re playing poker or on a blind date, read the non-verbal cues

Suddenly, Mr Moneybags is in the news again. Tycoon Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, who has added 72 Boeing aircraft to his shopping cart and actually placed the order, unlike me, who has overflowing carts on all the e-commerce sites but no actual buys!

Jhunjhunwala kept the world guessing for a while. Would he say yes to Airbus or Boeing? What would he go for? He’s good at keeping his cards close to his chest. I know this because, years ago, I actually played poker with him at a Diwali party, and he was the original poker face.

It was at actor Aamir Khan’s house and my friend, who had invited me to join him for the bash, was teaching the rest of us the nuances of the game. Aamir being Aamir, donned his ‘I’m method acting’ cloak and took the rules quite seriously. Kiran, his then wife, was busy being a good hostess and making sure our wine glasses were full, flitting in and out, not concerned about the game. His nephew, actor Imran Khan, mirrored Aamir’s every move, sitting cross-legged in the same attentive pose, head inclined similarly.

And just like Aamir had put all his energies into doing the Rubik’s Cube while all his guests spun around him like planets around the sun, Imran too stayed fully engrossed in the role of Rubik enthusiast as soon as he got the puzzle box from his uncle, barely even looking up when cricketer Yuvraj Singh made small talk with him.

While I was watching all this unfold, I realised there was another set of eyes peering closely as well. Jhunjhunwala’s. And when we played Poker, it was clear who was going to win — the focused man, who studied people rather than probabilities. Eager to win, impatient even, he kept prodding me to play faster with a ‘your turn, madem’. If only I had known to play my cards right and keep in touch, who knows, I might have flown on the maiden flight of his Akasa Air for free!


Jokes apart, I believe the art of studying people, their body language, what is said but what remains unsaid, is highly underrated. Pay attention to non-verbal cues and you can read someone like a book. It isn’t that hard too. We have the tools inbuilt within the fastest processors on earth — our brains!

According to scientists, we start to form impressions of others after seeing their faces for less than one-tenth of a second. In that time, we decide whether or not the person is attractive, trustworthy, competent, extroverted, or dominant. But that’s just the start. 

Little signs speak volumes. Like if someone moves their hands a lot or fidgets, they’re probably lying. Or if a person orients themselves with their feet towards you while seated, they could be interested in your conversation or attracted towards you. There’s a lot to be gleaned by how a person leans. And a lot to be said about how they nod their head! 


And, apparently, just like our fellow beings from the animal kingdom, we humans rely on smell as well. I read how in 2015, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, discovered that humans, when shaking hands with someone, sniffed their hands more than twice as much as they did before the handshake. It turns out that we may not outwardly sniff other people like our pets do, but still receive subliminal information more discreetly.

Pheromones, they say, are hormones that we release outside the body, which can impact the behaviour of other humans, especially when it comes to attraction. While research on this is sketchy and the jury is still out to lunch, there is certainly a possibility that ‘love at first sight’ is more likely ‘love at first sniff’!

It’s different in a professional set-up, of course. Taking a deep whiff of your interviewer at that job interview may send your resume to the bin, but there are other non-verbal cues that you could use to suss out your path to success. The good signs: If the interviewer is leaning forward, making eye contact, has a pleasant and alert expression... they are interested in what you’re saying. If s/he leans back, with arms crossed over the chest, they may be resistant to what you’re saying. If their gaze has started to wander around the room, you need to regain their interest quickly.

Such angels and demons lie in the details. Catch them if you can.

(The columnist is Associate Editor, TravelDine, and a bespoke Mumbai tour specialist. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @priyapathiyan and @thehungryhappyhippy on Facebook. She blogs on


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Published on: Sunday, November 21, 2021, 07:00 AM IST