She’s 22 already, it’s high time we took her FREEDOM away (officially!)
“I am troubled Ashutosh”
Sensing a problem deeper than it appears I waited for her to speak.
“I have not been able to focus on my career” she said.
I stayed silent as she tried to show she was speaking about the ‘real problem’. Knowing her I nodded and waited for her to vent out her feelings so that she can finally arrive at the actual problem that bothered her.
“You know they keep burdening me with a lot of work in the office and expect me to complete it within a really short time”
“Uh-huh”, I nodded again.
She struggled to speak her mind and looked frustrated. The uneasiness and the awkward silence between the conversations instigated her. Her face turned red with anger with a hint of guilt about what she was about to say.
“Yes?” I asked with concern.
“Chuck, it’s nothing!”
I did not force her. I wanted to help but she seemed pre-occupied and stressed out. Pushing her would have made things worse.
“Chill! Everything will be fine!” I tried to pacify.
Not pleased with the answer as was evident from her facial expressions, she exclaimed- “Hmmm”
We ended up spending the next half hour talking about normal stuff. Spoke about what she did on the weekend, the recent books she read and discussed on the latest episode of Game of Thrones!
“Hey, I hope you are coming for the trek that we have planned coming Saturday.”
Okay, though unintentionally, I managed to touch a nerve by that sentence. With a striking depth and heavy voice she spoke, “My parents will not allow me and I hate that!!!!!”
The conversation lasted for another two hours. It was an emotional ride, a perception war if you must that evinced the potential flaws in the understanding between the old and the newer generation and a communication gap of a lot of years which had hindered the smooth flow of empathy within the family.
Being a guy born in a well-educated broad minded family, I enjoyed a lot of freedom since I was a kid. There were times when I was unreasonably rebellious and I am glad my parents did not give into my demands and made me understand the meaning of freedom at the right time. There were some occasions though when they stuck to their opinions which I found were logically incorrect (though emotionally valid) and they could have pushed more to understand my point of view. It took time during such situations for me to persuade them but eventually they understood and let me have my way. They were apprehensive, yes. But all I needed was their trust to help me move forward with confidence. I am really grateful to them for guiding me to think independently and responsibly. We still have a difference of opinions regarding some issues (which is inevitable, any two people are bound to have differences), but I think as I gain more experience in life I may start to understand their point of view as well! But the bottom-line is that I enjoyed the freedom whenever I needed.
Obviously, I am a guy (no matter how much we’d like to believe in equality, being a guy has given me the advantage or an edge when it comes to freedom) and it is a bit convenient for me to say that I enjoyed the freedom of occasional night outs with my friends, staying a bit late after 9 pm studying at a friend’s place or roaming around just for the sake of it. Given the society we live in where thinking about the safety of children is a major concern of parents, the reaction of parents asking their daughters to reach home before the given time is understandable. Perhaps, I would go on further to state that up to a certain age we do seek the care and protection of our parents and we also need their support and counsel at times. It is a lovely gesture and promotes the notion of a healthy caring family. It just so happens that sometimes every individual at our age seeks independence- freedom from the over-protectiveness and strictly imposed time restrictions. Now again, as a guy, it is probably easy for me to get away with saying stuff like this. The reason that forced me to write is that it is truly necessary for a family to understand the mindset of the newer generation, especially girls, when it comes to setting a deadline over their enjoyment and giving less of freedom that a normal adult would wish for. I have had friends in college who wished they had the freedom and support that they desired from their family. Some of my good female friends chose a different path of dealing with the restrictions after getting tired of the ‘won’t give up’ attitude from their closed ones. Although they could have done well in India or a local place as well for that matter, they resorted to pursuing a post-graduation degree outside of India just so they can at least feel what freedom actually is. They have made use of the opportunity and are rather doing well in their respective fields. Had they gotten the support and understanding they needed, these bright minds could have contributed significantly for the development of our country while they stayed here with their near and dear ones.
Staying in a hostel taught me a lot of things. I am sure a lot of people reading this might agree to it that it was the time they spent in the hostel that they remembered post their college lives. And that doesn’t just involve enjoyment. Paying the bills, taking care of our own self, studying and making a schedule for day to day activities become an integral part when you start taking responsibility for yourself. You meet people from different backgrounds, have unwanted encounters with strangers and sometimes miss home or feel lonely. But it was those experiences that made me a better person, taught me to deal with the toughest situations, taught me how to make friends and how to understand people. Had I not been out there, I would have missed out on a lot of things that did help me in future and helped me become a mature and empathetic person.
It is not a feasible option for everyone to go and stay in a hostel or that you become independent only when you move out of the house. It was the satisfaction that I was dealing everything on my own that mattered. The sense that I was able to look after myself independently and that I was becoming emotionally and mentally stronger mattered. These experiences made me feel like an adult and that was the best realization I ever had. My parents felt good since they now believed that I could take care of myself and were actually relieved that I suffered through the hardships which made me stronger to face the real world in the future. I am sure they must have suffered too when I told them that I was going through a bad phase. But I appreciate the courage that my parents showed in giving me the motivation to move ahead even though they wanted to protect me. They respected my decision of freedom of doing what I wanted and the way I wanted. They trusted me with the responsibility because they believed that I was at this age when I needed to stand on my own feet, not only financially but emotionally and socially as well.
I could write all this because I have experienced it. I would not expect that from a female friend of mine who hates her family’s decision of not letting her hang out with guys from her own class. She was made to sit at home after 7 pm and she almost always missed the dinner parties that we used to have during the last semester of my engineering! She resented the fact that the golden days of her college life were about to end and here she was trying hard to battle her way out of the four walls called home just waiting for the permission to enjoy these remaining days with her friends. It is not that we just needed a night to throw a party. We had to enjoy and spend time with friends because we used to be busy with all the classes and projects till evening. After spending 4 years together in the same class, one would expect a family to let their daughter go with her college friends and to put some trust in the daughter and the friends as well. “We trust you, it’s others we don’t” they said. Is putting such restriction on a 22 year old fair enough? When will be the right age for her to actually go out and face the world? Would it only be when she gets married? Some beautiful questions to ponder upon I guess. It is not just the parties that she and other girls like her missed out on. The deadline restricted them from participating in extra and co-curricular activities which could have given a boost to their learning laying a foundation for bigger opportunities in the career consequently.
Three to four months after college. I was once chatting with a friend of mine from engineering college. Now since we are young and working in good companies after graduation, asking a person if there is someone good looking in their office is a common phenomenon. I asked her the same question. Although I expected a grin and 3–4 names at least, all she said was, “I need to make the best of these 6–8 months.” On interrogating further, she said she was set to get married after eight months. All this sweet girl had was eight months to enjoy the single unmarried life while her friends are busy looking for jobs or making graduation plans. She did not try to argue with the “relatives” or her parents on that decision. Apparently, the relatives have a more significant say in the marriage than the parents. All she had to do was study for 20 years to get married to a random guy that too after a “thorough” background research from the “relatives” who take serious interest in a girl’s life as soon as she turns 22 (or 19!). I am not against any marriage system- be it an arranged marriage or love marriage or inter-caste for that matter. But at the age of 22, when she has hardly discovered herself as a person?
Times were different in the past two decades. Success, family, independence and substantial achievement take precedence over a marriage today. Women today are striving hard to achieve and establish their names in this world. They are bright, talented, smart and confident. This includes a lot of my female friends and colleagues. It pains me to watch them being bothered by barriers like marriages and restrictions. I cannot possibly fathom the difficulties they go through and say that I understand. But I can see the pain and hardships they go through and the damage it does to their well-being. It does not take time for a person to get crushed under the burden of restrictions and resort to some extreme solution. No one would want to build an imaginary wall of resentment where you cannot possibly look into the eyes of your family members and share what you feel. After all, a cage is still a cage even if it is made of Gold! I know I am not a parent and cannot possibly fit myself in those shoes to empathize with the feelings associated with that responsibility. I also respect the experiences of the elders and believe that their decisions are often based on those experiences and they always look after the betterment of their loved ones. All I am attempting here is to convey some emotions and feelings that are not often communicated within the family. An effort to bridge the generation gap might go a long way in building trustworthy and honest relationships between the elders and the youth in a family. I wish to dedicate this to all my dear female friends and colleagues, who are amazing in their professional lives and are beautiful human beings. Just take off the shackles of restrictions and see them soar in their lives. I am sure they will move ahead in life with dignity and respect. All they need is a strong support from their families to stand behind them and give them the opportunity that they deserve.
It is not always easy to find a middle ground between adults especially when people with different beliefs and perceptions come together. But the beauty lies when all unanimously choose to spend time and understand each other to bring out the best in every individual. I don’t wish to hurt anyone’s sentiments but I also cannot see my friends resorting to dishonesty, choosing different career paths unnecessarily and keep regretting the fact that their lives could have been different if they had a little bit of freedom!
Live free, Be Responsible and Fly high!