A friend recently told me that her mother in law had fulfilled a long held dream on their recent trip to Goa. Could I guess what it was?
Surely she was too old for adventure sports! Could she have attempted parasailing or water skiing? As my mind churned with possibilities, Sonali cleared the mystery. Her mother-in-law had, for the first time, entered a swimming pool.
Swimming pool? Talk about an anti-climax! I had been picturing a 75-year-old falling from the skies with a parachute! How does a dream as basic as getting into a pool even qualify to be on someone’s bucket list?
I then learnt that at every holiday her mother-in-law would sit by the pool, wanting to get in but inhibited by years of conditioning – and by the more pragmatic complication of attire. She didn’t possess a costume, and even if she did, she didn’t have the nerve to wear one in public. Furthermore, she was the matriarch of the family – the grande dame. How could she step inside a pool filled with her children, nephews, nieces, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren? It just wouldn’t do. So year after year she would sit outside, watching her family splash around, trying to bask in their reflected joy. Until that evening, when Sonali casually suggested she take a dip.
Her mother-in-law hesitated, and at once my friend realised something she hadn’t in so many years. The old lady wanted to get in! Sonali tried to persuade her, and just when she thought she had imagined her eagerness, her mother-in law admitted that she would love to experience getting into a pool at least once before she dies. She was quick to add that the present time was not suitable because she didn’t have a swimming costume, but some day. Perhaps.
If that day hadn’t come in 75 years, Sonali realised it might never come. They had rented a villa with a private pool, and there were no costume rules. The timing was perfect. Sonali organised a long t-shirt and shorts and tried to coax her into taking the plunge later on in the evening, when everyone would be getting ready for dinner.
At first, her mother-in-law protested – and at the forefront of her reasoning was this one question – what would everyone think?
Sonali reminded her that she was surrounded by family, and even if she believed they would judge her, as long as her conscience was clear and she wasn’t harming anyone, it would be foolish on her part to stop herself. She handed over the t-shirt and shorts and left her to decide.
That evening, when everyone was in their rooms resting or getting ready for dinner, my friend stepped out to see if her mother-in-law had taken the literal plunge. And there she was, in the pool with her grandson, splashing away! She emerged a short while later, eyes sparkling with delight. The next day, she bought a modest swimming costume and was back in the pool.
This 75-year-old lady’s entire life had been dictated by her perception of society’s rigid norms of conduct, and only at this age had she stepped outside self-imposed boundaries, telling herself it didn’t matter what others thought. And to her surprise, no one cared. If anything, all anyone wanted to know was, what had stopped her from attempting this earlier. She realised then that the fear of being judged had been in her head all along.
The lines she had imagined society had drawn were in fact lines she had drawn herself, for we imagine we are being judged the same way we judge others. A man who thinks material success is paramount judges others by the same yardstick. If he is wealthy he believes people admire him because of his success for that’s how he judges others. If he isn’t wealthy, he shows-off, for he thinks he is being judged negatively.
In the same manner a woman who calls out another for wearing provocative clothing believes that if she exposes her body she will be shamed for it. So she covers up and believes others should too.
When a friend was recently laid off, his uncle who runs a transport company, suggested he drive a cab, but he refused for fear of what people would say. He’s now living with his parents, living off their retirement savings. His desire to uphold his esteem in society’s eyes overrides his sense of wellbeing. He is causing tremendous financial hardship to his parents, his family and to himself, and he’s still being judged as a loser.
You will be judged no matter what you do. So if you need money, go drive that cab. If you want to swim, wear a costume and jump into the water. Remember, what people think of you is nothing more than a reflection of their insecurities, so don’t pay heed. Put on the blinders and chase your dreams whether they be larger than life or as basic as getting into a pool.