Disha of the drift

Every fortnight, when my deadline to submit this column nears, I rack my brain to think of a topic that is interesting and relevant. I also read my old columns to ensure that I am not being repetitive. I did the same this time and found that my previous two columns were about the arrests of citizens. Then I tuned into social media discourse to find that yet another student had been arrested, ostensibly on charges of being part of an ‘international conspiracy’ to tarnish India’s image.

Disha Ravi, 21, is in jail for sharing a social media toolkit, discussing strategies to amplify the cause of the farmers’ protest. I silently cursed fate for forcing me to bore my readers with a repetitive topic. And I decided I would write this time about my love life. The experience of dating when you are in your thirties, and living with your parents because of the pandemic!

I came to Delhi, by road, at the height of the pandemic in May. It had been 10 years since I had spent more than a week at home in one stretch. There were undeniable pleasures and indulgences—waking up to a steaming cup of tea in bed every morning, delicious home-cooked meals, the reassuring presence of parents and the soothing quality of familial small talk and old jokes. There were also unexpected interactions and minute information sharing that I had not been used to for a decade.

My parents now knew of every single person that I was meeting or interacting with, even for a coffee date. They kept track. They noticed which ‘friend’ was coming home more than others. They knew who I was speaking to on the phone more than others. They made code names to refer to my friends and then laughed sheepishly when I asked indignant questions. They offered small bits of unsolicited advice. I felt like life had come full circle—that after 10 years of living alone in Bombay and building a life and career, I was 17 again. Oddly, it was comforting when it was not irritating!

Finally, I decided to tell them about the one boy I was actually keen on and was now dating. They said they liked him and invited him to dinner along with my other friends. My dating life had a jovial community participation vibe to it. In a few months, the said boy and I decided to go our separate ways having discovered that beast called incompatibility. I was sad for some months. My parents were sadder, witnessing my unhappiness.

They gave me pep talks and told me I must meet some other people. They encouraged me to meet a gentleman my friends were setting me up with. I resisted saying it felt like an ‘arranged marriage’ setup. They told me it did not matter how two people met if they ended up together. I relented. Recently, the good man and I met for dinner. He was affable and easy to talk to.

The conversation flowed into the personal sphere and we started discussing children. “I’d like to have children,” said the gentleman. “But, nowadays I just feel dejected and frankly worried.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Is this even a world to bring children into? I mean look at what’s happening with young people in the country. I mean so many are in jail. Some for telling a joke. Some for listening to a joke. One girl for speaking of sub-continental peace and amity and now look at this Disha Ravi.... She’s 21 for God’s sake and….”

I’m sorry. Did I just type Disha Ravi? Did that toolkit-sharing little girl just creep into my date unannounced? Do I have to now be worried that if it can happen to her, it can happen to me? Do I have to care that if college students are going to be criminalised for exploring ideas and caring about their country and current affairs, what would happen to my son or daughter for asking a question in school?

OMG, wait! Is this an international conspiracy? Are they wrecking our family planning now? Is there no escape? Or is this a sign? A sign that we may distract ourselves all we like with shopping, gossiping and dating, but if a 21-year-old girl can be arrested for social media strategising and supporting a peaceful protest, then we are all in line to be stamped ‘criminals’.