Aren’t you lonely?
Most recently by the electrician one day and the maid the next. In a one-two combo unwittingly creating potential despair in the Western mind.
Here’s it’s not a crushingly personal question that you’d never actually say out loud.
No, here it’s a natural question. After all, I live alone, which in itself is rather unusual. People generally live with their families, often in multi-multi generational homes. And my family is conspicuous in its absence, so I must be lonely.
I live in a large apartment – so big it’s really a house. It’s on three floors, has three bedrooms and four bathrooms (excessive, eh?) There are two terraces, and all this palatial layout is all just for me: the woman with no family.
Some people know that I lost my husband so they have pity for that as well. The state of being a widow here is generally speaking not a good one. And naturally if I’ve been married, I must miss him a great deal.
There’s also an assumption that I have children somewhere (how could I not after all?) – so I must miss these imaginary ghost children as well.
Plus I work from home and as far as they can see I don’t go out and meet people. I don’t leave the house much, it’s true – but then I work from home. And the casual observer can’t see the rich social life I have within my laptop. They don’t see me talking to clients on skype for 10 hours a day – laughing with my colleagues and actually speaking and hanging out so much that at the end of the day it’s quite nice to close it all down and be quiet in my lovely silent home.
No, they see – a big house and a woman with no husband or family, a long way from home.
So naturally, they want to know if I’m lonely.
But the difference here is that people actually ask me. Straight out and say it.
Instead of it being a private thought that crosses their minds and is never uttered, no here in India, it’s actually polite to ask about such things. It shows concern in the other person, interest in their wellbeing. And downright curiosity, which as far as I can gather, is never a bad thing here.
When my maid was saying goodbye the other day, she actually stopped at the door and came back in and said ‘Madam, aren’t you very lonely?’ And I must have looked blank as to what had brought this on, so she continued ‘your husband is gone, your family is gone, you are here’, and here she indicated the ludicrously large apartment, ‘aren’t you very sad and lonely?’ Warming to her theme, she carried on ‘I have my daughters, my husband is gone: but at home, we are three – you are just one’.
I know she meant well, but really talk about rubbing salt in the wound, eh?
And of course – as far as she’s concerned this is probably something that has bothered her for a long time, that due to proximity with foreigners has learned to gag down rather than blurting out. But here she is finally asking me…
And what can I say? Yes, I do miss my husband, yes, I miss my family, but I choose to stay here as I love it. This is my choice.
No of course, I can’t say all that – if for no other reason language probably isn’t going to get that across between us. So I said simply, ‘Yes’. And she looked at me and smiled, then left a little confused.
The next time she came she brought particularly nice spinach leaves. A thing I eat a great deal, so I think this might be her way of taking pity on me. Considering her own recent tragedy, it’s particularly sweet.
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