It’s no longer restricted to the playgrounds, the proverbial Lakshman rekha is the need of the hour in Indian households. Let’s talk about how to reinstate boundaries, and keep sane
Growing up in my ancestral home in Kolkata as a teenager in the ’90s, we had rooms aplenty, but the only people who were allowed to lock their rooms were my parents. I slept with my granny in her room, and only aberrations for latching up were times when my sisters and I were changing, getting dressed elaborately for a party, or were in the shower. Even when the curtains were drawn, doors weren’t knocked for the ‘children’.
We also watched the same shows on TV, used the same phone (landline and later cordless), and travelled in one car.
However, I do have crystal-clear memories of an uncle of my father’s, who’d clear his throat from the staircase to signal his arrival (ours was an interconnected house with no separate entry gate for each floor). Then, there was another lady, an otherwise soft-spoken family friend, who’d say salaam in a rather loud tone before entering our living area. These were subtle ways in which they, as outsiders, would signal their arrival into the private space of my family that could be in the middle of a heated discussion or some chore, something that they didn’t want to give a visitor access to.
It was only when I moved out and began to live independently that the concept of privacy began to seep into my life at home. Initially, I’d be aghast when I’d see my own sister (who I was living with in Delhi) lock her room door in broad daylight. One time when her friends were coming over, and I had a headache, she suggested I lock my room, and that’s when I actually understood she was allowing me my boundary in the space we called home.
Another crucial lesson of this instance was that communication of the need for such a boundary helps set one. Children in Indian households are not expected to have a say in who they engage with in their households, guests or members.
But the pandemic has added a new dimension to the concept of boundaries, with the work and study-from-home culture fast gaining momentum. Boundaries are becoming more crucial than ever before — be it between couples, parents, and children, the siblings, or even between your domestic worker and you.
So, what does one do when a parent barges into your room where you are on a Zoom video call with a client? Or, your mom loudly knocks your locked door to call you for lunch, and you are giving important training sessions to your team a couple of times a day? Sure, you feel embarrassed when you are not on mute, and curse the person who made video calls a reality.
But desperate times, such as these, call for desperate measures, and it’s literally the best time to draw healthy lines that never existed in your seamless homes.
To begin with, communicate, and well enough in advance. Our families were not used to seeing us working, and studying from home, up until last year. And now that the new normal is here to stay, sit them down, and explain your work and study schedule to them. Besides, this will also make them used to you having your ‘me time’ at home, gradually.
Next, give them details. Bemuse them with how you are publishing an article, giving an examination or interview from your bedroom, or scoring a promotion or a contract over a video call. This will not only help secure empathy, but will also fill in the generational gap. Besides, the next time you have a Zoom party with friends, your mom will probably cook you your favourite meal once you share your plan with her. Or better still, be an example, and help your mom plan a Zoom night with her bestie.
Thirdly, give daily reminders. This is especially helpful when you have older parents and grandparents at home, who often tend to forget, and lose track of your daily schedule. It doesn’t hurt to slip in that you will be busy in a meeting during lunchtime or dinner, when you sit down for breakfast with them on the day you have something important scheduled. This will also help subconsciously rewire their minds to the concept of boundaries at home.
Lastly, keep your cool. Losing patience and temper will only spoil your mood and task. So, while you are in the process of setting these boundaries, understand that it’s not an overnight process. You are challenging, and trying to alter decades of conditioning. This will need time and patience.
Boundaries are essential for survival, so draw your lines, keep them, and keep fielding.