Being Alone

Last month, I wondered how to make my 50th birthday special. And after a lot of thought and back and forth, I decided to do a solo trip. I have never done it. A couple of months ago, it may have even been unthinkable for me. I still ended up choosing the safest places to be, but I did it.

So from the outside it looks like I took a holiday. Umm…I was working on most days, even on a Sunday for an hour or two. But there was no expectation from anyone that I had to. But I was just doing the bare minimum to keep things going, so it wasn’t stalling anything. So yeah, it was a holiday.

From the inside, was it a holiday? Yes, sure. But it was more than that.

Holidays are for the privileged, right? Yes. But as soon as I reached Goa, I realized that there is a whole new level of privilege, holidays or not.

That is the privilege of being alone. Because most Indian women can’t possibly get their head around this. We are so defined by our families and extended families, so stepping out of the city by yourself is met with a lot of questions: We can do a family trip, can’t we? Why don’t you ask our friends to join you? Are you going for work? Won’t you get bored?

I went alone. I sat in restaurants and watched the people on the other tables. A North Indian family, out on a holiday, but it sounded like they carried their morning breakfast table conversation to Goa: how bad the tea is, how thick the alu paranthas, and so on. I could talk about the whiny attitude, but that’s not what this post is about. It is about them not knowing that we carry our group dynamics wherever we go, so we will never get to see ourselves, truly. What we could be if we had no one around. And it’s not a sorry state at all. It’s of exuberance and pause and gentleness and joy for no reason. And also your ups and downs, and the space to have them.

What a privilege.

And why women? I saw men who looked like they didn’t want to be on this holiday. I saw men giving their wives the break they needed from the kids. Wouldn’t they like to have this privilege too? I have a few guy friends who know this: some go for their yearly solo trips, some gave up after they got married, some have restarted after their divorce. But they know the thing about being alone. For that time, to not be defined by their work or wives or kids or parents.

What a privilege. To know that you are all that, and more. Or less, as the layers peel off, even if temporarily.

What a privilege, to sit quietly and have a drink and a bite of your choice. That doesn’t need to be dependent on what the others are having.

What a privilege, to not have to do anything, and just be. To not be caught up in chores or see if everyone is comfortable. Or if the meal is balanced and to everyone’s liking. Or that the clothes are washed and everyone has clothes for the week. Or that you have to leave the phone on at night, because your elderly parents might need help (mine are gone, so I can now switch it off at night). Or that there is no shrieking dementia person or post-chemo patient in the other room who needs your attention. Or not feel guilty about not putting in your volunteering hours.

What a privilege that you have a team that can step in to do your work. Or that you don’t have to be in the day-to-day things that keep the revenue coming in.

Do I sound uncaring? As if being alone means running away from responsibilities. It could but it isn’t. That’s one’s choice really. 

The point is to give yourself the space to be yourself. I do that all the time at home as well. But it’s still a physical space that needs attention. It’s an emotional space where others need attention. 

Consider taking this privilege, of being alone. Because you need your own attention.

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