The elephant in the room: Young Indians, parents and the S-word

To tell or not to tell.
The elephant in the room: Young Indians, parents and the S-word
The elephant in the room: Young Indians, parents and the S-word
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On a quiet summer evening, an 18-year-old Sudeep Saha stole his first kiss with his first girlfriend on the terrace of his house in Chandigarh. Later that day, he broke into song as he told his mother about it.

“I broke the news to them later, in full-on filmy style and that was it,” he says. No drama except his own euphoric burst of song. His mother teased him about it, and told him to be careful.

Keeping his first kiss from his parents simply never occurred to him, Sudeep says. As a kid, his parents always encouraged him to talk to them, and to never lie. Even now, eight years later, Sudeep talks about his love life to his parents, and feels that other parents too are more open to the idea of their kids dating people.

But details beyond names of girlfriends or boyfriends are part of a ‘No Entry’ zone, which parents do not attempt to venture into and into which no invitation is extended. The most that is said after this, is a standard, parental, ‘Don’t get into trouble’ for something everyone would like to pretend doesn’t exist: the sexual aspect of relationships.

“We’ve all been brought up in a particular manner, and there wasn’t much space for discussions on this. I don’t desire this kind of comfort in the first place,” says Hari Sankar, a 22-year-old Mumbai-based entrepreneur in residence.

The closest Hari and his parents got to discussing girlfriends was when his father told him off for it after his first date in his hometown Kochi.

“I took her to Dominos that evening, held hands, and did what 16-year-olds do on their first date,” Hari recollects. All the euphoria of a teenage date wore off a few hours later when his father found out.

“When he confronted me, my immediate instinct was to lie, because I knew he would not have taken the news gladly,” he said.

“He said he checked my phone, and I was furious. He then subjected me to a lesson on how I should not be doing such things,” Hari said, laughing.

Describing his relationship with his parents as a “closed” one, Hari said he had made attempts to change this when he moved to Delhi for studies.

“I started by letting them in on late night hangouts with friends and they too reciprocated. So now if I were to tell them that I’m dating, I’m sure they wouldn't react the same way,” Hari says. This said, he still doesn’t want to cross the Lakshman Rekha.

Dubai-based business consultant Ria, doesn’t think Indian parents are going to be open to such conversations any time soon, but she wishes they would.

“It is not a comfortable topic of discussion with your parents for the sole reason that your physical relationship with a certain someone is very personal. While you want to keep your parents informed of the people in your life, I personally don't think that sharing that personal space with them is pleasant (when they feel awkward).” 

When it comes to the question of safe sex, there is just no one to turn to, says 23-year-old Ria. She feels that it is important for parents, especially mothers, to share stories of their own adventures with their daughters. That could prevent pregnancy-related suicides, she says.

However, she too appears to share some of that reluctance when it comes to her teenage brother’s “escapades in the area”. But Hari, who’s begun to grow close to his younger brother of late, says he would like to know what his sibling is up to. “As an elder brother, I want to ensure that he doesn’t get into trouble. I wouldn’t mind if he chose to keep me informed,” he said.

Bengaluru-based architect Aparna Raveendran feels that though a lot of parents are getting accustomed to the idea of discussing their children’s love lives, she would avoid bringing it up.

“I think there might always be certain things that kids might want to keep to themselves, which need not have anything to do with being conservative or liberal, but more to do with privacy,” says 29-year-old Aparna.

Austin Jose, an engineering student from Kochi, also feels that the comfort level ends at informing parents.

“My family adores my girlfriend, and we occasionally go out together. But I wouldn’t be okay talking to them about anything more than the fact that I am dating her. One, I do not feel comfortable sharing such information, and two, the information does not concern me alone,” he said.

The winds of change maybe a gentle breeze right now, but very much present.

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