Object of attention
“So… your daughter is back home?”
“Ooh, NGO work and all. Good she has left it. Enough of service. Tell her to put her degree to good use.”
“When is she getting married? Are you looking for grooms?”
“You must go to this astrologer.”
“Is she looking for jobs? May she get a job with very good salary!”
From neighbours to acquaintances to my life insurance agent, everyone has one or the other thing to say about me. Why am I the object of attention? I recently moved back home, after having been away for so long. In the years that I have been away, there haven’t been many visits home, mostly for logistical reasons. I also say “object” of attention because that is how most conversations proceed. I am in the sidelines, mute spectator to questions about my own life, while my parents are forced to mumble answers.
Initially, it intrigued me how everyone always spoke to my parents about me, even while I was standing right next to them. I would try to butt in an answer or two, but the listener/interrogator would give me pitiful smiles, and revert to my parents.
Eventually, I realised every conversation fit into the above format. My identity was perceived to revolve around a few things- has a good degree, will get a good job, is of marriageable age, and my parents were answerable for my actions (?). People’s hopes for me danced around two major milestones- getting a good job, and finding a groom. There was no conversation with me, and there was no conversation about me, aside from these things.
The fact is, I am unhappy being the object of attention. I do not want to be talked at, or about. I want to be talked to. And I want you to realise that my identity need to be connected to a job, or a marriage. There’s so much more that a 25 year old could offer, in way of conversation.
For instance, you might want to ask me about my work with children coming from urban low-income communities. I could tell you how much I learnt from them, from their parents. How my definitions of emotions, challenges, and even life, has evolved because of them. I could tell you how I discovered my own weaknesses in the course of my work, and how challenging I found it. You could, with your life experience, add to it, help me out.
Or, you could ask me about the last book I read. That is one thing about me, I love to read. I could tell you how I finished reading ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ last night, and cried an ugly cry. I wept at the grief and trauma. I am sure you would have insights about dealing with grief, coping with loss, and moving on.
You could ask me how I am spending my days now, and I could tell you all about the million things I am reading and doing. I could tell you how my yoga class helps me relax, and how I have met some amazing women through the class. I could tell you how my baking has improved, and how my mother now uses some of my recipes in her kitchen. (YAY!)
Speaking of mother, I could tell you how amazing it has been to be back home. I was here when my grandmother breathed her last, and I am so glad I was around to support my parents through it. I loved the two months my nephew was here, and thoroughly enjoyed reading stories to him, and answering his questions.
I could tell you all about my growth as a person, how my experiences have helped me question my belief and disbelief. I could tell you what makes me happy, what makes me upset. I could even talk to you about my fears, once we were comfortable enough with each other.
I want to be able to speak and be listened to, and also to be able to listen to your thoughts. I want to know how you have dealt with your life, what experiences have shaped you as a person, what you like and don’t like. I want to listen to what is important to you.
Until then, I will keep wishing, and trying to end conversations that involve me and alienate me, at the same time. I will hope to do away with perceptions that limit my identity. I will try, to move from being an object of attention, to a participant.