Monday, January 16, 2017

The depths of conditioning

A few days ago Natasha Badhwar wrote a beautiful article entitled "Does Your Child Feel Safe With You?"  She describes an incident from her early childhood, in which she and her even younger cousin get lost, and how the younger cousin is soundly thrashed. Please follow this link and read what she says.

The concern most parents feel for their children is often expressed in such negative ways. The child may grieve for the hurt she has caused her parent, and also for the hurt and injury to her self esteem.
Anxiety is infectious. A mother worrying about the late arrival of her spouse transmits that anxiety, willy-nilly, to her children. For those of us who grew up in a world without cell-phones, or without any phone at all, (perhaps a neighbourhood phone where messages might or might not be delivered home), the lack of communication could lead to extreme anxiety if a family member was unreasonably late. It took years of worrying (most pointlessly) and a wise friend's counsel to learn that "No news is good news."

Having grown up in Delhi, and having braved the nastiness of several men on the street and in DTC buses, I was obviously concerned when my older daughter moved to Delhi for her college education several years ago.The general advice we gave her was the same that I had received in my youth: to try and be back home/ in the hostel before dark.
One day last week I spent most of the day out of my house, minus the spouse. I went across Delhi to meet a friend who was here from another city. I had lunch at a restaurant on my own. I went to several stalls at the book fair. I attended a talk I had been wanting to attend. But as evening fell, I was struggling to concentrate on the talk while suppressing the voice within me that insisted that I should be home. The voice was summarily shut up, but the mere fact of its existence annoyed me. Today we have good communication systems, the spouse knew where I was, we communicated as and when required.
I had not made anyone worry about me. There was absolutely no need for guilt.
And yet the wretched guilt did exist...

I asked my older daughter the other day whether she felt the same way? She does too. She does whatever she has to, comes back home whenever she wishes to, but that wretched voice still exists.

This is a legacy I do not wish to give to anyone. Our cities may not be terribly safe, we may live our lives with sensible precautions, but we need to be our own women, not haunted by the conditioning of our youth...


Shail said...

I hear it too. You have made a pertinent point, Dipali.

dipali said...

Good to know that, Shail!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Dipali. Yes, it's so strange that despite being seemingly independent women certain habits and attitudes are so conditioned within us.

dipali said...

Absolutely, Batul. It's annoying, to say the least!

Anisha sachdeva said...

..strange you write this. .coz just today I decided to take my kids out for a after dinner sweet jaunt to bikanerwala...a mere 3 km away.
And my 10 year old daughter asks me, ma you aren't comfortable driving in the night...would you have taken us to papa's resort (a good 40km away) at this time. ..or say at 6pm..or would you stop at night even for an icecream?
One part of me nonchalantly said of course I would. ..I'm a capable woman! But the niggling voice warned against such foolhardiness. ..despite the reassurance of having a 'safe' and 'dependable' car!!
I don't know any other life or any other way of thinking for my city of birth hasn't changed..

dipali said...

@Anisha Sachdeva: This is the tragedy of our lives here: we internalize so much fear that we have completely forgotten the freedom of living without it!

The Bride said...

I realised how much I internalized the fear only when I moved to Hong Kong and experienced being able to let it go because it literally did not make sense. But although my experience in Hong Kong convinced me I'm safe, I take the fear with me to other place. I realised this when I went to Korea and the Hong Kong girl I was with did not even think twice about exploring the city late at night. Maybe foolhardy but her sense of security was a privilege I did not have.

If we move back to India, this will be my biggest regret, not being able to give my daughter a childhood without that conditioning.

However, your larger point is more important. That we should not let the fear hold us back, we should take back our spaces. Movements like Why Loiter are trying to encourage this.

dipali said...

@ The Bride:
Yes, Living abroad, even for a short while, makes you realize that personal space and freedom outside your home can and do exist.
We all need to overcome those fears and loiter, and enjoy our cities without fear.
Don't know if it will happen in my lifetime!