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Young couples and their privacy problems
Matthew Schneeberger
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May 30, 2007

Let's face it; in bustling cities like Mumbai and Delhi, privacy is a rare and unusual commodity, and every inch of space is devoured by the thriving populace.

Moreover, there are an estimated 700 million people under the age of 35, and the typical Indian mindset is more or less tuned to the joint family concept. The very idea of privacy in such a setting is derided as self-centered, so young couples are facing a double dilemma -- a lack of both physical and emotional space.

Our question: is privacy possible for these budding young love birds? If so, where and how can a couple achieve privacy? And finally, what ethical issues are raised in the search for privacy?

In pursuit of the answers to these questions, I set off across Mumbai and on the internet to connect with youngsters and get their opinions regarding privacy. The responses were numerous and varied, ranging from debauched tales of deviousness, to oaths of chastity and everything in between.

Is privacy possible for young couples in India?

I spoke with thirty people over the course of the last two weeks. The response to the first question was an overwhelming "NO!"

Nineteen people firmly rejected the possibility of privacy for couples in India, while only seven said privacy was readily available. Four said the issue was too complicated to divide into a simple yes or no format.

Of the negative responses, two issues repeatedly surfaced -- familial pressures and the lack of space in India's metropoles.

Albert D'souza, a 27-year-old originally from Kerala but living in Bangalore, spoke of his frustrations as a single man living in a PG accommodation.
"For starters, my parents are committed to finding someone from my community back home, even though I haven't been there in years," he says. "As per the rules set down by my landlord, I'm never to have a girl in my room, not even for afternoon visits! And even when I did once fancy a girl who also liked me, her parents didn't approve of her dating a bachelor who lives alone. They wanted a guy with family in the area, someone they knew."

Durga Sengupta, a 23-year-old Mumbaikar, laughed at my question before answering negatively. "Privacy, how funny! If you call smooching on Marine Drive alongside a million other couples privacy, I guess you could say so. Space is at a premium and almost everyone lives with their families. We're not allowed to lock our bedroom doors in India, let alone have a boyfriend or girlfriend over to the house."

The other negative answers followed this trend: people live with their parents, who come from a very conservative background. Family concerns trump individual privacy. Even living alone, housing societies have very strict rules, and you MUST be married to have guests overnight.

So, we know that most young people feel that obtaining privacy is virtually impossible, but let's see what those who manage to do so have to say about the issue.

Where and how can you achieve privacy?

"Lying and trickery. It's the only way." This was the first answer I received, from 26-year-old Rakhi Zore, a Mumbaikar. "I've dated my current boyfriend for three years, we've been having sex for two years, and my parents have never met him! Whenever either of our parents leaves town, or a friend's parents leave town, we make use of the vacant flat. We've even resorted to pretend sleep-overs at friend's houses, only to go to a hotel and spend the night."

Other answers were less scandalous, such as Rajeev Mukhi's, a 29-year-old from Delhi who married his high school sweetheart. "Look, anything is possible. Just be creative. A couple can enjoy dinner together in nice restaurants at a table for two. They can go to a romantic movie with dim lighting, which is a wonderful atmosphere. They can go on a co-ed, school-sponsored vacation to a hill station. While my wife and I never had sex before marriage, we did all the things I just mentioned. It gave us the chance to spend time together when we couldn't at home. We were very comfortable around each other by the time we were married."

Other answers ran the gamut: "Make out in the back of a taxi!", "Go to a friend's house, or to a nightclub", "Lie, lie, lie", "Don't risk it! An auntie or uncle will see you at the restaurant and dutifully report back to your parents. You'll be dead upon returning home."

One particularly innovative response came from one of the voters who couldn't decide between privacy or no privacy. She said, "I don't think privacy is available like how you see in the movies. Still, my boyfriend and I constantly send each other SMS's and chat online while we are at the office. I may only see him once a week, and hardly ever do we get alone-time, but technology allows us to be a really close couple!"

As you can see, opinions vary. One important consideration, however, is the ethical and emotional cost of seeking out this privacy. We'll provide answers for this question tomorrow. You won't believe some of the responses!

Part II -- Tomorrow

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