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“A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN” – Prof.Shruthi Nanjappa

27 May, 2022.

The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown changed our lives in more ways than one. It brought changes in ways we hadn’t even thought of. It threw life as we knew it out of gear and we had to adapt to the “new normal”. Professional and personal life changed drastically and as a result of Work from Home the lines between the two blurred.

The pandemic has brought to the forth a number of things that one either took for granted or one did not pay attention to. The lockdown forced us to stay indoors for months forcing us to stay in close proximity with our families day in and day out. One of the things that a lot of us discovered was that we are not “family people”. A number of us realised that we cannot live with our families 24*7.  Living in close quarters with even the people that you are closest to is not easy and can actually be extremely stressful.

There are a number of studies done by various research organizations and NGOs to prove that lockdown put a lot of stress on primary relationships and that there has been violence and schism in these intimate relationships. Cases of domestic violence and child abuse increased during this period. One of the reasons that were discussed is that the lack of space in Indian homes was a cause of this. The lack of space adds to stress of constantly living in each other’s face.  Humans are social beings there is no doubt about it, but they do need some space and time by themselves, in solitude where they can recuperate psychologically.

Online classes were another huge transition for all stakeholders involved – students, teachers, parents. There was a huge teething problem where online classes are concerned, but eventually everyone got around to it. While talking to students during online classes, I was made aware of the difficulties of this mode of education. An average, middle class, urban Indian family has more than one child and both parents working more often than not. Negotiating online classes became a challenge in more ways than one. First the requirement of one device for each family member, then the requirement of space for each member to attend classes or work.

In India a large number of families do not have separate rooms for each individual member of the family. Children share rooms; sometimes adult children share a room with parents. With online classes and work from home the problem has compounded. Children are trying to attend online classes and parents are attending calls and meetings within the same space. Children were easily distracted as a result of this. Internet bandwidth was affected with all members using it simultaneously.

While discussing these problems with my students, the one thing that they were thankful for was the fact that they had a room to themselves, where they could be alone and “ take a break from their families.” They were of the opinion that they would have had mental meltdown if they didn’t have a room of their own which had become their safe haven during the Lockdown. Most students especially the girls said that they were being monitored carefully, especially usage of the mobile phone and a lot of them claimed their phones were being checked by their parents. Another common complaint that both sexes had was that their parents were excessively critical of anything and everything that they did. So the best thing for them to do was to have minimum contact with parents and find solace in the solitude of their rooms.

This made me think about the importance of a “Room of one’s own” or of some private space that an individual needed while living in close proximity of people who would scrutinise them all the time. Then it lead to another question….the mother/wife/women of the house had no “Room of her own”!! Children have rooms to themselves even if they have to share it, in laws have their own room but the woman of the house has no room of her own. She shares it with her husband and more often than not, when the husband is there, the room is his and not her’s.  The lady of the house has no space that she can call her own exclusively, to just get away from household responsibilities and relax. A place she can just be without being judged or scrutinised. A space she can retreat to and spend time without feeling guilty or family members asking her what she is doing. A space where you can be yourself, unwind, let down your guard, not have to live up to expectations and do the things you want to. Even if it is something as simple as arranging or decorating the room the way you want.

Being a patriarchal society, women are relegated to the house and the chores of the house; they do not have an exclusive space for themselves in that very house.  A lot of women with whom I have discussed this question often say that the only space they find is in their work space. Where they get approval for the work they do and also get a space that they can call their own. Most women haven’t even considered this. They have never thought that in the house that they live, they must have a space that is exclusively theirs. Many don’t see the need for it too. Usually the men in the family tell the women that “ the entire house is yours”…but is that really the case? Has anyone ever asked the lady of the house if she would like a room for herself? Has the time come to raise this question? Or is it unnecessary?

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