Sensitivity, A Necessity. Not A Luxury !

Ever had this question thrown at you “Enna Good News aaaa ?”

sensitivity-a-necessity-not-a-luxury

Anywhere on this planet, the term “good news” stands for anything good but when it comes to our country, especially if that question is from someone elderly in India, it can mean just one thing “Are you pregnant ?” “Are you expecting a baby?”

It is a natural rite of passage, if I may call it that. Once someone gets married, people automatically assume that an offspring will follow soon. It is almost as if the purpose of the whole institution of marriage as we know it, is singular.  Babies !!!

What our society does not acknowledge is the fact that marriage is not really necessary for babies to be “produced”. Society, more importantly, does not recognize the fact that just because a man and a woman are married, it is absolutely not mandatory for them to biologically contribute to the ever growing population on this planet.

I moved abroad days after my marriage and did not have to bear the brunt of this invasion of privacy, albeit in blatantly lingual terms. Yet, whenever we used to visit Bombay, there would be the inevitable hordes of aunties (not necessarily relatives) and each and every one of them had just one thing to ask “Enna Good News Onnum Illaya ?” (Translated : What, no good news yet ?).

In fact, during one of my visits to Bombay, there were so many ladies who walked up and started sermoning me about how it “was about time” me and my husband had a baby !!  Trust me, I didn’t even know these ladies. Yet, they simply took it upon themselves to lecture me on something that is considered beyond the realms of privacy to a stranger or a virtual stranger even.

We had our first baby after five years of marriage and there have been many who considered this “delay”, an undeniable transgression on our part.

There is no concept of “personal space” (either mentally or emotionally) as far as this question goes. Our generation and the generations after ours, both in India and outside of the country, have some notion of what I call a “comfort zone”, especially one that demarcates mental and emotional boundaries and these lines can be crossed (if at all) only by very very close friends and relatives.

There is no such “comfort zone” with the elderly generation in India and even if you do have one, when you are in their midst, you might as well pack it up because it simply is not going to be honored, it simply is not going to have any effect on them. Personal questions are piled one upon the other and no matter how aghast or stupefied you look, it is completely lost upon people.

I vividly remember one such incident when we had to attend an engagement function while in Bombay. We had been married for over two years then and one elderly uncle just took it upon himself to saunter over and ask us extremely personal questions. Just like that. No qualms, no reservations – nothing. For him, it was like discussing the weather or the menu. Not for a moment even, I guess, must the thought have crossed his mind that such questions are an absolute No No. Funny thing is, they actually expect you to give them a straight answer !! Personal space is violated without the slightest bit of hesitation and there seemingly is no sense of embarrassment, let alone apologies.

Emotional privacy is important and even more so, it is important to respect another’s boundaries in this respect. It is very easy to saucily ask ladies “why no baby yet ?” without having any idea as to what’s going on in people’s personal lives. There are many people battling infertility issues and inadvertently posing that question to them is sheer sacrilege.

Having gone through a wide range of infertility treatments because of PCOS, I know what it is like when you are pumped full of hormones or have to go through one investigation after another which only gets progressively more invasive.  I know the depths of despair and anguish it can lead to when every single month, your body says “nada. Not this time”. I know what it takes out of people to gather every single dreg of courage and nerve to go through the entire cycle all over again. The last thing, believe me, people need at such times, is prying eyes and snoopy, wagging tongues.

A few months back, one acquaintance was trying to explain to me that she had met one of my friends at a music concert in Bombay. When I could not place who she was talking about, she indulged in this rather lame statement “Oh ! that lady who does not have any children of her own !!”.  That statement was so very tactless, thoughtless and inconsiderate, in my opinion. It seemed cruel even because she knew very well that the lady in question had been undergoing infertility treatments for a number of years.

It is sad that even in today’s world, where people consider themselves well read, well informed and socially polished, there still remains a percentage of female populace who consider it their god given birth right to look down upon women who have, biologically, not been able to bear or have a child of their own. Why identify someone just on the basis of the fact that they’ve not been able to bear children ? Why not identify her on the basis of her talents, her positive traits rather than on something that is well beyond her control ?

Human relationships are woven with innumerable strands of feelings, emotions, sentiments and passions. When emotions play such a huge role in making us what we are, in differentiating us from the animal world, the one thing I’ve never been able to understand nor comprehend is why women sometimes exhibit such appalling apathy when it comes to the distress and pain of another woman. I guess this is just another one of those questions, the injustice of which, seems so palpable.

It would do a lot of good if people were to recognize and respect the need for an emotional buffer in every individual. It would make things a lot easier if there was a recognition of those lines, those boundaries that one does not cross, unless and until they are permitted to. Last but not the least, it would do all the women in this world a lot of good to rewire their sentiments and make sensitivity a need of the hour when it comes to dealing with their female brethren rather than dismiss it as a luxury that need not be extended to one and all.

A penny for your thoughts, people ?

Gauri Venkitaraman dons many hats – a wife, a mom, a teacher and many more. Working as a full-time English teacher in HongKong, Gauri also raises and nurtures two terrors, affectionately known as The Nutty Siblings a.k.a Macadamia, a teen and Pecan, the ten-year old who behaves like he is fifteen. Gauri’s family means the world to her. Life is a lively roller coaster ride and we, as a family, aim to enjoy the ride together. http://tiny-tidbits.blogspot.hk/ is where Gauri pens down her thoughts and musings, in an attempt to preserve memories for posterity.

  • Yamini Vijendran

    Very true Gauri. In some households I know, when newly married girls get their first periods, the older women form a circle around her and do kummi (dancing with clapping their hands) and tell the girl, “You got it this time, don’t get it next time!” Contradict with an incident when I had newly joined work. A US client had visited us and I was talking to that lady and casually asked if she was married and had children. She was taken aback! I did not know then that such questions were considered impertinent in most countries. Since then I have known better than to venture personal questions to anybody – desi or videsi! We as a country have little or no idea about personal space (as is evident when 10 people travel in a share-auto meant for 5!).

    • Gauri

      True, Yamini. I remember an incident at a cousin’s baby’s Kappu ceremony during my college days. The ladies ganged up and got another lady to do some of the rituals – feeding a stone and such and then announced to the whole world that she was being asked to do it because she did not have children yet and this ritual was supposed to make her more fertile. I remember how horrified I was because all that stood out for me was that lady’s stricken face. Later in the day, I asked my mom why ladies thoughtlessly do such things and got told off – big time !

  • Sid Balachandran

    Hi Gauri – an extremely well-written post 🙂 Personally, like you mentioned, I reckon it’s an “Indian” thing. Just like you, my wife and I escaped those nagging and intrusive questions into our private lives, since we were abroad. However coming home for the holidays was always a very “touchy” affair. We had Little Ri after 3.5 years of marriage, and only when we were ready. Now that we’re back in India, we invariably face the question “Doesn’t Little Ri need a little brother or sister?”; In time people…in time – we’re in no hurry to add to this burgeoning population !

    • Gauri

      Thanks, Sid :-). Oh yes ! People never know when to stop, do they ? Like you said, after you’ve had one child, they start hankering you for the next one. Good luck dealing with that bit 🙂

  • Well-said, Gauri. Those who pop the ‘Why no baby yet?’ question are rude and uncouth with no sense of civility or idea of another’s privacy. Sometimes I wonder if they know it and still do it. I had mine after 3 years of marriage. Mister had learnt to shut mouths by stating bluntly – ‘We are not planning to have them at all’ while Mrs. put salt on their wounds by saying ‘We’re too much of lovers to want someone sleeping between us.’ Just when the world had decided that we are a debauched couple with no sense of demographics, we gave them one because WE thought we were ready. And yes, those same ladies came with boxes of sweets and a big ‘Thank God, akkal aa gai. Badhai ho!’

    • Gauri

      I doubt if they’ve bothered thinking about how rude or insensitive such questions are, Sakshi. In their minds, I think they do really believe that they are enlightening people !

  • Wonderfully written. I have my daughter 5 years after marriage I have heard it all or so I would like to think.
    Also I feel it is not just India – it is more Asian. I have had random strangers (read taxi drivers, cashiers etc) advise me and ask me when I planned to have my next during my stint in Singapore

    • Gauri

      Vinitha, I’ve been asked bluntly if I had infertility issues – that too in the midst of a group of people. This was before we had our first child. It is almost as if society insists that you prove your fertility to them. Wow – taxi drivers and cashiers even ?? It never stops, does it ? Thanks for stopping by, Vinitha.

  • Archana Selvam

    Very well written. It is def. so true in India. Such a private and sensitive question asked in public. Married and the 10th month you are expected to have a baby. There is no question of emotional, physical, mental readiness to be a parent.

    • Gauri

      True, Archana. The sooner that people start to recognise and respect emotional boundaries, the better for everyone, imho. Thanks for stopping by :-).

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