Privacy, I think is completely overrated. Not that I would know a whole lot about it. I mean when you grow up in a joint family with a minimum of 12-15 people around the house any given week, you grow completely unaware of a concept called privacy. I grew up in the shadows of my elder cousins and completely shadowing the four who came after us. The only person I know who had some semblance of a private time was my grandmother who would, well shut herself up in her bathroom. No intruding there. My grandfather who had his own room had to put up with awkward grand kids who giggled at his nose when he was breathing or doing yoga and often trooped up behind him after dinner like a pack of hound dogs salivating at the smell of stories like “Akkama and the glass mountain” or “Detective Shambu” we sometimes left him alone after he had exhausted himself to sleep. The house was like this bright light that attracted moths – my relatives of all sizes, shapes, ages, colors, and languages often descending for days together. It was fun to be tripping over people all the time especially because it meant all my cousins would come over and we could play hide and seek and four corners all day. Privacy?!?! what was that?? In a house where hiding and seeking was extremely popular, you had to be very careful going to the restroom when you needed to take a break or even sit for some quiet time. It was scary the number of people who thought bathrooms made good hiding spots. At one point, after an overload of Archie comics and Malory towers, I decided I needed some private space and wanted to keep a diary…. Like my grandmother often grumbles, I must have started the venture at Rahu Kaal for the simple reason that the diary kept turning up at the place I had not hid it. I once caught my brother reading it and giggling. Oh the fit I threw that day, my mother stared at him, my father stared at him and said Tsk! Tsk! and then they wanted to know what I had so secret that I wanted to write it in a diary!!! It was a long while before I wandered that path again. This time I thought I was clever and wrote it in a secret handwriting. Things I thought were going quite well, I mean I had my privacy, my thoughts and no one knew about it, until one day I discovered my brother’s diary written using the same “Secret” code. Uh! The indignation! Well! Of course I read his diary, the fellow had no clue how to hide it properly and what can I say, I wanted to know things…..
By the time, I was in high school and on my way to college, the moths no longer came that often. The house had quietened down to say about 6-9 people on a bad day. Not that it made much difference. I had a tiny little brother who was determined to follow in all of our footsteps, literally. The kid was everywhere. It was so much fun that none of us realized that the concept of privacy still remained a tad elusive. I would often get little breaks, when the sun was at its highest and the whole house fell into this post lunch slumber, with my father on the couch snoring, my grandmother on the diwan snoring, my little brother entertaining his toes and my mother half asleep on the chair. I could peacefully step into a room and read quietly without much disturbance atleast for 15 minutes, until the doorbell rang, or the telephone rang or the little one came in wanting to watch Popeye. And then my elder cousin found college friends, oh God the torture. I would usually come home from school a little early and would be watching TV, when he would burst through the doors, drag me into the kitchen, make me stay there and then head out, tip toe in, herd his friends into a room making sure they didn’t glance around and quickly shut the door. It was like this whole swat operation and it was painfully hilarious. I figured for about 5 mins that either I was very pretty and he did not want his hunky college men with pencil thin mustaches eyeing me, or thought so highly of his friends that I would end up ogling them. Well, 5 mins later, my cousin sister came trooping in grumbling and then my grandmother!!!! MY GRANDMOTHER!!!!! well, she had to make coffee and pakoras. So much for private kitchen time or TV time. Growing up like this…solitude, privacy, alone time, they were all in my head if and when I wanted it and I didn’t even realize how nice it was for a very very long time. And then I moved to the US.
I was alright for the first few weeks. The geek was at home, we talked, did the usual things and then came a Monday. I was actually good for the first few weeks actually. The Messenger kept me in touch with family for atleast an hour or so, I cleaned, read, went through photos, and wandered around. I has a deluge of thoughts and whatnot and extremely crowded conversations inside my head….and then they started slowing down. I usually spoke to my parents for hours together, or even spoke to myself, anything to fill the silence. When I went home, I spoke non stop. When my mother went to her siesta, I would sit in front of her with an old reader’s digest, looking at her till she woke up. ” Honey! I can’t sleep if you are staring at me!” “Oh that’s okay Ma! You can sleep in the night, sleeping in the afternoon will make you fat either way.” or “No..Appa you are playing Solitaire all wrong, move a bit, let me help you” or “What are you writing, kiddo…Oh My God! Your handwriting is all over the place, let me write it for you.” What can I say, I was determined to make things seem old again
In spite of all this I love my private times. The ones at 9.30 in the night driving my car down the highway listening to Kishore Kumar, A.R.R or the Beatles or the Eagles. The moments at home when I can sit outside or inside with a book and a cup of tea and just the world humming around. For most part I have my privacy in my imagination, when I do make them real, I lap up every drop of it.