Wednesday, June 17, 2009


If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.

Romain Rolland 

In 1994 I met a man whose brother, Patrick, lived in India and ran a small English school.  I started corresponding with Patrick with the hope that I could volunteer in his little school.  His first letter was discouraging; he said that Westerners found his way of life very challenging, particularly the lack of privacy.  I wasn't sure exactly what he meant, but it didn't sound too bad!  Teaching in a small village in India was the opportunity of a lifetime, so I kept writing to Patrick until he finally invited me to stay with him and his family in Jejuri.

I remember waking up my first morning in Patrick's home in India.  Eight of us had slept in one room and I had been given the only bed.  I woke up in the centre of the room, with the family bustling around me, involved in their morning routines.  The doorway to the street was on my left and as I rolled over I saw the faces of eight or nine village kids staring at me.  They had been waiting anxiously to see their first Caucasian woman.  I rolled out of bed and began to unzip my backpack, which prompted Patrick's two kids, Sonny and Baby, to come and see what mysteries the great purple bag held.  The little entourage of street kids grew brave, and as I searched around for my toiletry kit, I had an audience of a dozen children.

This is what Patrick had meant by lack of privacy.  I was never alone.  My every move was of such interest to people, that I was always being studied very closely.  Even when I used the bathroom, Patrick's 'maid' Anundi would often be washing the laundry in the same room.  Once, as I was squatting, Anundi started saying something in Mahrati, then she came over to me and lifted up the back of my skirt so that it wouldn't get soiled!!!   I couldn't even go for a walk by myself, so I escaped by plugging into my Walkman for a few songs a day, just to preserve my sanity.  

I realize now that my India experience foreshadowed my life as a mother.  My daughters are always intensely interested in what I'm doing, and their favourite place is to be right by my side.  They're not yet content to just 'play' on their own.  I try to sneak away to the bathroom for a little privacy, but Pip or Crazybaby always find me and "keep me company."  Because Pip likes companionship when she uses the bathroom, she thinks everyone must feel the same way.  Once, when Crazybaby was napping, I said to Pip, "Mama needs a little privacy, honey, could you please close the bathroom door?"  
"Sure, Mama," Pip said.  She stood just outside the door and proceeded to open it every thirty seconds to ask, "Are you done yet, Mama?"

It's fortunate that this lack-of-privacy phenomenon has happened gradually.  It seems like a normal part of my life now.  Surprisingly enough, I don't seem to mind it at all.