Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Standing room only

(Published in Business Standard on January 13, 2013)

When I was twelve or so, my parents and I yelled at each other because they told me I couldn’t wear shorts in the Delhi summer. I did anyway. When I was sixteen, we yelled at each other because they told me I couldn’t hitch rides on trucks. I did anyway. (Those were possibly more innocent times.) When I was twenty, we yelled at each other because they told me I couldn’t go to a hotel coffee shop to have an after-dinner cup of coffee with a young man of my acquaintance. I did anyway.

Between twenty and thirty we didn’t yell at each other that much because we lived in different countries and they had only the fuzziest sense of what I was up to. For the record I was working at a newspaper and a magazine, going out and about at all times of day and night, having love affairs I enjoyed very much, and generally living very happily. We did have one terse conversation in which I informed my mother I was going to backpack around a foreign country with a male friend, and she passed the phone to my father, who said don’t be idiotic, and I said, talk to you when I’m back.

When I was thirty, after my father died, my mother and I yelled at each other because she said I couldn’t stay out late carousing with friends. I did anyway. We yelled at each other when I said I was going to come home unescorted at night. I did anyway. When I was thirty-five we yelled at each other because she said I shouldn’t be going off to another country to visit a chap. I did anyway.

By the time I was thirty-seven both she and I were somewhat less energetic, and more inclined to favour exchanging acidic barbs over yelling, so we exchanged acidic barbs when she said it was a bad idea for me to have a couple of beers at a bar by myself. I did anyway. We exchanged acidic barbs when I organised a two-month trip to a foreign country without asking her what she thought of that idea. I went anyway.

This is all to explain why both she and I have a lot of grey hair.

Just kidding. This is all to explain that every successive generation of women has to expect a lot of yelling and acidic barb exchanging in the cause of carving out the kind of space we require to live whatever life we choose. I’ve done my best to explain my choices to her—the way I dress, travel around my city, am single and childless, do work I love, have a sex life I don’t need to justify. It’s a simple explanation: I value my freedom above all else, and don’t see one single good reason for why I should have to curtail it when I’m not the one committing crimes. I’m sorry I make people worry, but other people’s worry is not reason enough to cower at home in a Puducherry-style overcoat. If anything ever happens to me—and it’s a matter of luck that nothing has so far—I will not be blaming myself.

I will say here that my mother is nothing short of awesome. I’m happy to say that all the screaming and acid has settled into a largely peaceful Line of Control. The line of control is that she controls her life, and I control mine. She worries, but she has accepted that it’s my life.

So here’s what I would say to the next generation: ignore the emotional blackmail, and stand up for your choices, whatever they are. And once you’ve stood up, walk the talk. Unless you’re happy with standing room only.

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