Family Distancing: The Missing Notion of Privacy at Home

Enough time has passed with us being at home for a cycle to start kicking in. The whole experience of being at home with our near and dear ones 24×7 is beginning to crystallise – it has gone through various phases and has started to settle into a pattern.

What is the great Indian family feeling about being with each other all the time?

Initially, there was a great sense of relief and gratitude to have everyone safely under the same roof. It was good to be together in the safety of one’s home and feel grateful about having a reasonably well-stocked home. We also discovered how little one needs in real terms to get by on a day-to-day basis. We divided up chores and it led to many happy discoveries of how every member was contributing.

We were sticking together for survival.

Work from home (WFH) was also great. We welcomed the gentle merging of the professional and the personal and your toddler poking his head into your online team meeting frame was cute. We all took the opportunity to introduce our little ones to the team mates and they dutifully ‘oohed and aahed’  and welcomed the glimpse of the mother behind the professional.

The un-starching of the professional was a welcome break. But I wish it would just be that – a break, a punctuation, a closing of the loop. I yearn for a separate space. I miss the brisk mornings where household chores had to be wrapped up, track pants would give way to a starched kurta and proper earrings, and I would be off to work.

It allowed me to live my professional self in all its glory in a separate space called office. The constant merging and flowing in and out of different identities and merging of individual and familial space has put a lot of strain on the fledgling individuality, bringing up the largely debated idea – and an almost illegitimate idea – of privacy and personal space in Indian society.

As I look around, I find a friend working from his car even though he has a single child nuclear family and a reasonable sized flat. I find another friend with whom the conversation is very restricted with sudden breaks and ‘can’t talk now’ signals. When I go for a walk, I see many solo walkers having animated and personal conversations – yes, I’m guilty of eavesdropping – and the length of their walks are directly proportional to the intensity of their conversations. Clearly, for many of us, drive time, the car and the office is the only personal space we get.

Also read: ‘Stay Safe, Take Care’: The ‘Non-Cooperation Movement’ Led by the Authorities

In my work with mental health, I found that many people are unable to successfully make the shift to an online video format because they don’t have the privacy. Even with those moving from face-to-face formats to the online world, the quality of the dialogue is compromised because in most homes nobody thinks about knocking before coming into the room. As a result, it is impossible to relax and the online therapy space ceases to be a ‘safe space’ as soon as it gets located at home. The phone works better because you can take the call outside the home on a park bench. Our relaxed personal spaces seem to exist outside the home.

When we spend so much time together and every aspect of our lives, personal and professional, has converged into our homes, the issue of privacy comes into focus. Togetherness is great but the permission to disengage and have no-go areas without invoking guilt powered by ‘oh my god, you want to get away from your family’ is very important.

If the sheen of WFH has started wearing off a bit, maybe since it is just that tiny bit suffocating, it’s because the great Indian family often confuses love and togetherness with total lack of boundaries.

Sraboni Bhaduri is a psychologist by training who writes about sociocultural issues and cultural perspectives. You can read her blog ‘Wrongsiding’ for the Times of India here.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty