No Place for the Young

Four years ago when I got married, I didn’t imagine it would change my life so drastically. There would be this slightly cumbersome affair of living with a guy, I thought. I couldn’t be more wrong. Being married turned out to be a great deal, you see, and it was evident in the whole nomenclature change. I wasn’t just a woman with her boyfriend any more, I was a ‘family’. That opened up a world of possibilities. Suddenly, a host of living spaces were available to the family that we were qualified to be. Housemaids developed a renewed understanding of my standards of cleanliness. Neighbours didn’t stare at me when I talked to their kids. Everybody from washing machine salesmen to house brokers took my facial reactions quite seriously. My bosses at work perfectly understood my need for a work-life balance. I had crossed the line that separated singles and unmarried couples from legitimately married couples, and the benefits on the other side were aplenty.

Fast forward four years, I find myself under qualified again. You see, I have come to realise that there is this another line, a big chasm rather, that separates the ‘young couples’ and the ‘couples with kids’. On the other side of this chasm lie the ultra uber benefits, the kind we never imagined existed.

Nowhere is this social inequality more apparent than in public transport. For example, if you are traveling in a train, and there is a kid playing with a noisy toy at 10 in the night, you will see 2 reactions – you will see kind, considerate glances, or you will see folks like me who purse their lips and keep their quiet. But if you are a bunch of youngsters talking till late into the night, or, god forbid, playing cards, you can expect middle-aged uncle to walk to the compartment and teach you youngsters a lesson in consideration. No kind, considerate glances, I assure you, for the bunch of friends who are meeting for 3 days after 4 years. I once had the misfortune of traveling with a 4 year old who wanted her mother to sing the ‘finger family’ song till midnight, and who then woke up at 6 in the morning to bully her grandfather into doing the same. No one said a word to the parents, but I could hear all my neighbours tch-tching when I kept my personal reading lights on till 1 in the night.

In fact, the preferential treatment on the other side lasts way into old age. I once heard an old couple talk to their grandchild over a call for over 15 minutes in the wee hours of the morning. So excited (and loud) they were, they woke me up from 2 compartments away. I imagined what it would be like if a girl my age talked to her boyfriend that loudly, and at that time of the day. Of course, no one needs to be reminded of why its perfectly normal to play ‘Shirdi wale Sai Baba’ on speakers in a public place, but very disrespectful to play ‘The shape of you’.

And so, over these years, I have come to realise that all expectations aren’t born equal. A family’s expectation from a public space (no loud music, no PDA) is valued far more than the average youngster’s expectation (no shrill voices, privacy). It is OK, therefore, to barge into a youngster’s music time to ask 20 questions, but not OK to ask a woman with a kid to stick to her seat (she has 3 handbags, let her be!). A family often converts their compartment into their living room (home food, loud conversations, kid romping around) – because it is important that a family feels at home. My ‘at home’ comprises of comfortable shorts, rock music and/or reading lights. Clearly, that’s not essential, and I need to understand that it’s a public place.

Of course, I must be naive, inconsiderate, or plain rude to be talking so. I also hear the censure. You don’t have a kid of your own – wait till you have one. You can’t shut a kid up, and only a parent knows how difficult handling a kid is. Kids are a social responsibility, and everyone should come together to ensure they don’t feel like they are away from home wherever they go. Sorry, folks. A crying kid who needs comforting all night –  I understand. A kid who is scared of trains or travel and needs support from co-passengers – I understand and I support. A whiny creature whose every whim and fancy needs to be fulfilled wherever they are – that’s gonna rankle every time.

But still, until I produce that whiny creature of my own blood, I remain a crusader against privilege. I continue to question why when I paid the 2AC fare, or the crazy bill for the fancy restaurant ambience, or the club house maintenance charges, I don’t get what I wanted and expected from them. I am that odd age now when I don’t get preferential treatments. What I do get is the time and freedom to rant – do you really want to take that away from me?

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