Friday, January 15, 2010

Personal space..

Any married woman living in India can tell you there are innumerable little nits to be borne in daily social life. It could be a nosy relative who sidles over to your mother-in-law to point out that you never wear your diamond earrings as befits a married woman. Or it could be annoying neighbors that drop in at all odd hours borrowing anything from a couple of onions to your new hot water bag. Or it could be the gossipy maid servant who snoops on all your shopping and reports them dutifully to the entire flat complex. Or it could be office colleagues who keep offering unsolicited, unwanted advice.

Yes, the concept of "personal space" is literally non-existent in a country like India. I learnt this word only after coming to the US 6 years ago!  It is a place where strangers can ask the most personal, intrusive questions most casually without flinching and they expect you to answer it. But its also the place where people respond unexpectedly to mundane questions like "How are you?". Some questions/responses have startled me in their brutal honesty!

"When are you having your first child? Isn't it late enough?"
"When are you getting married? You're 29 and you've not found a guy yet?!!"
" What's your salary?"
"I had a big fight with my wife today about our daily budget"
"My wife and I have fertility problems."

Here in the US, some of these questions would border on the outrageous/impertinent and no one would dream of talking about their marital life in public with a relative stranger. Hell, even desis here think twice about discussing anything personal even with their close friends. I can't imagine going and telling my co-worker about my personal problems but this happens regularly in India.

But then, sometimes, I feel that despite the general irksomeness of being forced to open up to someone when you least want it, its a good vent. You don't have to schedule an appointment with your best friend to find time to cry on her shoulder. You get a sense of relief when you've unburdened yourself and it takes pressure off other relationships -- spouses, friends etc.. -- to supply one's emotional needs. And in all the unsolicited advice that one gets, there are some nuggets of real wisdom if we're wiling to look deep enough. Sometimes, when we're facing a major life crisis or event, its good to get all the support you can whether it be from a grocery vendor or from the milkman or from a distant relative.

I am not justifying being nosy. After US life for nearly 6 years, I have trouble adjusting to the lack of privacy in India. But I think that we could all do with a bit of opening up here in the US and maybe even a bit more honesty in our relationships.


Viji said...

This is the only post of yours that I disagree with. I very much like the protocol followed here. Intrusive questions serve only to irritate me no end. As for advice, I honestly think I am doing a pretty good with my life to not rely on advice from others. Even then, to me, my parents are the only people worth taking advice from. Other people can just keep their bloody noses out of my business, for their own good. That's my take on this topic.

Viji said...

That said, I like the spontaneity of our people. There is not much pretense. And no aggressive marketing, like the one here (CALL THE NUMBER ON SCREEN RIGHT NOW). Our ads reflect our culture- they are much more humorous and creative.

Narayanan Venkitu said...

I agree with you 100% about the lack of privacy in India.

It's hard to adjust even if you live here for a short time , especially if you are a woman. Pardon me folks.