Draw­ing The Line

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

SO, THERE I was in an air­port lounge, sit­ting qui­etly in one corner, mind­ing my own busi­ness. My hus­band, who was trav­el­ling in a wheel­chair, wanted some wa­ter so I went to the buf­fet counter to get it. Barely had I reached into the fridge, than a voice be­hind me said, “Ex­cuse me.” I turned around, think­ing it was a staff mem­ber of­fer­ing as­sis­tance. But no, it was a com­plete stranger, smil­ing brightly at me. “Yes,” I asked.

“I just saw that your hus­band is in a wheel­chair,” he said. “What is the prob­lem?”

I sup­pose the eas­i­est re­sponse would have been to ex­plain that he was suf­fer­ing from a bout of sci­at­ica. But I was so ap­palled by the bla­tant dis­re­gard for my pri­vacy (not to men­tion my hus­band’s) and the barefaced ef­fron­tery of me, I lost count of the num­ber of times I heard peo­ple joke about how I must have been an ‘ac­ci­dent’. Af­ter all, my par­ents had ‘one of each’ so the third one could only have ar­rived be­cause of a fail­ure of con­tra­cep­tion. It was prob­a­bly said good-na­turedly but ever since I be­gan to un­der­stand what it meant, it al­ways came as a shock to hear that I had never been wanted in the first place.

More re­cently, I have seen much the same sce­nario un­fold with a friend of mine. She has three daugh­ters, all born within a year or two of one an­other. And ev­ery time she goes any­where with all three of them – whether to a PTA meet­ing, a fam­ily func­tion, a birth­day party, or even on a rou­tine trip to the den­tist – she is sure to get one of the fol­low­ing three re­sponses (and some­times all three). “Three daugh­ters? Oh, you must have been hop­ing for a son.” “Is the shop shut? Or will you try one last time for a boy?” “How lucky, girls are the best. But doesn’t your hus­band want a son too?”

I can only imag­ine how those three young girls feel when they hear these care­less re­marks thrown about within earshot. Do they feel worth­less be­cause, ap­par­ently, a fam­ily is never com­plete with­out a son? Do they won­der if their par­ents are dis­ap­pointed in them be­cause of their gen­der? Do they feel like fail­ures for no fault of their own?

But some­how, ev­ery­one feels en­ti­tled to com­ment on other peo­ple’s per­sonal choices, or even query their life de­ci­sions. Here is just a ran­dom sam­ple of ques­tions that you grow up be­ing asked in In­dia – not just by par­ents, fam­ily mem­bers, neigh­bours or friends; but by com­plete strangers in doc­tors’ wait­ing rooms, on the train, and yes, even in air­line lounges.

How come you are not mar­ried yet? Di­vorced? Oh, what hap­pened?

How many kids do you have? Just the one? He is five al­ready? Isn’t it time you had the sec­ond one? You know, only chil­dren can grow up to be self­ish and lonely.

How long have you been mar­ried? No chil­dren? Any prob­lems? You know, I can rec­om­mend a spe­cial­ist. He helped my cousin con­ceive – not once, but twice!

And then, there are the ques­tions that are asked so that you can be placed in the so­cial or­der: Where did you go to school?

Did you go to col­lege in In­dia or abroad?

Where do you live? Do you live in a flat or a house? How much did you pay for it? Oh, your par­ents left it to you? How much do you think it is worth now?

What car do you drive? Do you drive your­self or do you have a driver?

Where did you go for your summer hol­i­days? Where are you plan­ning to go for Christ­mas/New Year?

The ques­tions just pile on and on and on till the in­tru­sive­ness be­comes such a part of your en­vi­ron­ment that you don’t even regis­ter it, let alone find it of­fen­sive.

But then comes a mo­ment when a com­plete stranger walks up to you and asks you about your hus­band’s med­i­cal con­di­tion as if he has a per­fect right to do so. And that’s when you be­gin to lay down bound­aries in your own head. And prom­ise your­self that you will safe­guard them even at the cost of be­ing seen as rude. Be­cause, some­times, of­fense is the best de­fence.

Your pri­vacy is worth pro­tect­ing; even at the cost of be­ing thought rude

For more SPEC­TA­TOR col­umns by Seema Goswami, log on to hin­dus­tan­times.com/brunch. Fol­low her on Twit­ter at twit­ter.com/seemagoswami

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