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Personal space is not a concept easily understood or accepted in an Indian family setting. Women and girls are the ones who come off worse, not that men and boys aren’t equally affected. Parents don’t think twice about going through the effects of children without their knowledge, never mind if said children are in college, or are even married and have kids of their own. By the same token, the young don’t give personal space to the older folk too. It happens all the time. And no one thinks it is wrong in any way.

I must have been around eighteen or so when one day mother found me writing a letter. It was to my friend Razia, I remember that detail to this day. Yes, I told mother the same when she asked me, all suspicious-like, what I was doing. Any sort of communication between the genders is anathema to most Indian parents, and it was especially so all those decades ago during my college days. Meeting or talking with those of the opposite gender was a big no-no.

Anyways, there I was, writing a letter to a friend, having left her behind and moved to a new college for my graduation. Teenage years. I chuckle thinking of it today, but at the time the problems were serious enough for the age. Somewhere halfway through my long newsy letter, I slipped into a more somber mood. Very theatrically, I likened my predicament, and myself, to a ship adrift in the sea. No land visible anywhere, I wrote. Soon I settled in, the words coming off easily enough, good for more outpourings of pure teenage angst to fill the pages. But it was not to be.

Mother, who was in the room, folding clothes or so, and had been eyeing me from time to time, walked over to where I was sitting at the table, and asked to see the letter I was writing.  I am sure most girls of my age in that era would have felt resentment of a sort while still obeying the order pronto. Not me.

I was angry and SCANDALIZED. I did NOT want to hand over my personal letter to mother. What did she mean wanting to read MY letter to MY friend? It was bad enough that every elder around seemed it was okay to open any letter that came for me, but to want to read what I send too? NO WAY! These were the thoughts running in my head.

Perhaps that’s what prompted me (ahh, the joys of righteous indignation when you are innocent of any wrong-doings!) to look at mother defiantly and firmly say, “No!” By the manner in which she paused I knew she hadn’t expected my answer to be a bold refusal. Her voice rose the second time around when she demanded that I hand the letter over to her, Right Then. “No!” I repeated, and then did something she did not expect me to.

She had extended her hand to snatch the letter off where it lay so innocently on the table, but I had already snatched it up and deliberately tore it to little bits. I threw the pieces into the wastepaper basket and turned to look at her triumphantly. She (or anyone else) was NOT going to read my letter. So what if I had to write it all over again, and this time I made sure it was when no one was around.

Some people claim to have an ‘open’ system of doing things, an open house where all members of a family have access to all cupboards, tables, draws, wardrobes, handbags. They have nothing to hide from their family or close ones, they say.  Well, we are all not the same. I am definitely not the sort. And it is certainly not a matter of having anything to hide, but a matter of respecting personal space. I am a private person and simply do NOT take kindly to anyone nosing through my things without my express permission. With the exception of Luci, but of course.

It is strange, the association of words. The letter incident was what came to mind when I saw the Daily Prompt today to be the word ‘adrift‘.

©Shail Mohan 2017