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In India, even a mere acquaintance can ask a personal question. A woman writes why it is never okay to ask one, no matter how well-meaning the intentions are.
A recent article I read about the well-meaning neighbourhood aunties who feel it is their rightful duty to advise young couples on the right time to have children got me thinking. I am well familiar with these nosey neighbours and have had my share of uncomfortable conversations. Not so recently married and still without a baby, I am often rudely and directly reminded of my perceived purpose of existence.
Many people from the reliable house help to the well-wishing aunty from next door reminds me how I need a child to be complete. Some have even directly told me that I need to have a child for my grandmother-in-law, who would need a companion to play with in her 90’s. The irony of which is that grandmom was one of the first people who warned me against such advice. She had laughed and told me a year after my marriage that there would be lots of family, friends and acquaintances who would advise me to start a family now and that I must pay no heed to them. In her view, honeymoon babies were a thing of the past. Today, a woman needed to be educated, independent, successful and mature before she could take on the responsibility of a child. She believes, and often reminds me, that I need to be complete and content inside before I can nurture a child and teach him/her all that is to learn in this world. Today’s world requires a knowledgeable mother, one who knows her place in this jungle, for without knowing and living this, she might not be equipped to bring up a child to take on what he/she might encounter in his life.
But in all this nosey business, what bothers me is this sense of rightfulness and intrusiveness these people have in the lives of others, especially those younger than them. Come to think of it. It is not merely a matter of people but one that is deeply ingrained in our society. ‘Well meaning’ people think it is alright to talk to and talk about other people if they have what they believe is their best interest at heart.
From asking a person their age or salary, to discussing marriage and child planning no topic is left personal to an individual anymore. I have heard innumerable uncomfortable conversations like those exemplified below, which not only leave me wondering about how some people think it is alright to give unsolicited advice if their intentions are well meaning.
To a successful working 20 something your girl
Aunty – “Are you married?”
Girl – “No”
Aunty – “How old are you?”
Girl – “26”
Aunty – “Then when do you plan to get married? This is the right age to settle down. If you delay too much everything from children to retirement plans will get delayed”
To a soon to be mother (hence referred to as STBM)
Aunty – “You look big, you must be due soon”
STBM – “Yes the due date is in 2 weeks”
Aunty – “Really! That is good. I am glad you planned to have a child within a year after marriage, unlike these other girls living here, married much before you and yet to plan a family”
STBM – “We did not really plan it, it just happened. We were hoping to wait some more time, but destiny had other plans”
Aunty – “It is all good. You will know later in age how it was a blessing. But tell me, the baby does not seem to have come down enough to be ready to come out in 2 weeks. Are you sure it is 2 weeks?”
STBM – “Yes, my doctor has rechecked. She has also advised lots of walks and some special diets to help”
Aunty – “That is all fine, but I would suggest taking household suggestions from the local midwife. They see many such cases daily, they know how to deal with these issues without much trouble. I will ask her to drop by at your place today itself.”
To a young independent working girl
Uncle – “I saw a lot of cartons coming into your home yesterday. Are you shifting?”
Girl – “Yes uncle. By the month end”
Uncle – “Oh, it is sad to see you go. But then we rarely ever saw you. You both work long hours”
Girl – “Yes. We have demanding jobs and usually just meet in the mornings and nights”
Uncle – “I know how it is with you younger lot today. But you must ask your husband to be home at an earlier hour. He usually comes very late, sometimes I have seen him return even around midnight. Tell him it is not safe to let you be alone this late at night alone. The world is not a safe place today, unlike in our times”
These conversations all had the best of intentions and often the advice was genuine. What I find difficult to fathom is the comfort with which these people ask these personal queries to simple acquaintances. I would shudder to have such a conversation even with friends and relatives, for fear of them being too personal.
In earlier times, when people had deeper and longer lasting relationships with their neighbours I suppose such conversations seemed fine.
In earlier times, when people had deeper and longer lasting relationships with their neighbours I suppose such conversations seemed fine. Neighbours were like family and were part of all the celebrations and sorrows with each other. But with the changing times today, where we do not have time to talk to our family and friends, let alone neighbours, I do not think those close relationships exist for many of us. Today, there are conversations we sometimes don’t have the time to and at other times choose not to have even with our closest friends and relatives. Thus, it is extremely uncomfortable to have people ask such personal questions.
It is not welcome for people whom we seldom meet and even more rarely speak to discuss personal issues. We feel that our plans, our space and our lives are for us. And if we would like your advise we would ourselves approach you for it. Discussing us with others and then coming to us and advising on how we must lead our life is not welcomed. Not because we do not appreciate your concern, but because it makes us uncomfortable and sometimes even insecure to know that you are keeping an eye on us and our lives.
Thus, it is my humble request, please let our space and our issues remain personal to us. Please do not invade it without permission.
Cover image via Shutterstock
A dreamer, traveler and an avid reader, who refuses to be bogged down by day-
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