Holding Onto Others: Why It Matters

— Basudhara Roy

Not long ago, when I was a newly-wed bride in a part of Jamshedpur I had never frequented on my annual family visits there, attempting to adjust to the rhythms of everyday domestic life while holding on to my academic aspirations and a teaching career, I had marveled at the lush abundance of time that the women in my immediate social circle seemed to possess. My husband, having married later than most of his friends, naturally introduced me to social gatherings of experienced spouses and parents who would, not uncritically, question my culinary capacities, my housekeeping skills and our plans for bearing and rearing children. It had seemed to me odd then that despite the progress that social and cultural thought had purportedly made from my grandmother’s times till date, the widely accepted model of the good wife still somehow hovered between the poles of housekeeping and maternity. These, to me, at that point in my life, seemed somehow immaterial. Much more material and concrete were the challenges that confronted me in my academic life – deadlines for abstracts, ideas missing their mark, rejected papers, failed compositions. While fast food could easily come to my aid in the kitchen, my academic crises demanded my undivided attention and I was perpetually short of time. I politely rejected invitations to get-togethers, scarcely asked anyone to tea, put on a reluctant formal appearance on birthdays and anniversaries, and in general, contrived in every way, to get myself unaffiliated from my social circle so that I would be left alone to pursue what I liked best.

Motherhood changed all that. The day I returned from the hospital bearing my brand new baby boy, visitors inundated my house. In my erstwhile quiet home, there was now a sudden flurry of scampering feet as hushedly excited children of the neighbourhood demanded a sneak peek of their future playmate. From all those people I had deftly avoided in the last three years, there came rolling a huge wave of concerned affection – thoughtful baby gifts, useful hands-me-downs, timely tips on feeding, burping and bed-wetting and most of all, the rich feeling of belonging to a community, a vibrant social community that I had easily discounted in favour of the virtual communities of friends with whom I had regularly kept up these past years.

In a world lived increasingly in virtual spaces, and both brought together and distanced by the almost institutionalized omnipotence of technology, there is much that is to be spoken for real human intimacy, something that I fear our children may fail to receive and appreciate.

I was brought up in a nuclear family incessantly aware of its incompleteness. ‘Home’, for my parents, was not where we lived but where my father’s parents lived, which was a sprawling company bungalow allotted to my father’s elder brother in his job at Rakha Copper Mines (an hour’s distance from Jamshedpur). And since Rakha was a small place few knew about, on being asked at school where my gaon or village was, I would instinctively reply ‘Jamshedpur’ (which was where eventually my grandparents settled after my uncle retired.) My real village, my father was to tell me later, was in the district of Midnapore, a place I have neither been to, nor have inherited memories about, since my grandfather, even as a youth had moved out from it to work in Bihar. A dislocated offshoot of a large household, I remember our early three-member family life being constantly interrupted by family visits. And how exciting it was, to respond to the knock at the door and to discover, out of the blue, some uncle or grand-uncle come to stay the night or the weekend, bearing presents which mostly constituted then of sweet and fruit!

As I live today this world of schedules, prior notices and appointments, I grow sadly nostalgic thinking that no unannounced uncles, aunts and cousins shall ever punctuate my son’s monotonous life with surprise visits; that he shall perhaps know only the long-distance intimacy of skype and not the touching of feet, the rightful gripping of hands, the meaningful pat on the shoulder (or bum) and the warm, assuring hug that characterize real intimacy of relatives and friends; that he shall content himself with video games and not pine throughout the year as I did, for the one-month summer vacation in which all cousins within our widely extended family got together to play the weirdest kinds of self-invented games. And it is for his sake today that I wish to affiliate myself to a community, to keep abreast of relationships and responsibilities in the dense network of family and friends that surround my life. Today, the pressures of my life are greater but now that I have stopped hoarding time, it fluidly and generously expands itself to allow me room for all my social duties. Today, I know just what it means to have someone to talk to over a cup of coffee, just what it means to have someone help you do the dishes or talk to you while you cook. I immensely value today my social world as uncles, aunts and little friends keep dropping into my son’s life, brightening his world with tiny lights, because I know, when you are excited or happy or sad or in danger, two pairs of hands aren’t enough to hold and why, when you can always reach out for more?

About the Author
Basudhara Roy (b.1986) is Assistant Professor of English at Karim City College, Jamshedpur. She is a gold medalist in English (2009) from Banaras Hindu University. Her areas of academic interest are diaspora theory, feminism and postmodern criticism and she is currently working on her doctoral research on Indian American women writers.

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