Loss of privacy vs. Loss of dignity

Till about a few years back, we did not have any domestic help at home—either full-time or part-time. It was not because we could not afford one; on the contrary, it was because my mother, who is an intensely private person, could not bear to have any help afoot at home. She abhorred the inevitable gossip that came as a package deal with the domestic helps. We once had a domestic help called Kashibai, who would step into our house and start off on the goings on in the other houses she worked in. Even if we told her that we did not want to hear about the affairs of other houses, she would continue with absolute relish. We were quite sure when she worked in the other houses, she would be speaking about the goings on in our house !

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All this led to Amma preferring not to have any domestic help and do all the household work herself. The rest of us would pitch in whenever she let us help her. But with advancing age, this state of affairs could not go on for ever and about 8 years ago, Amma finally agreed to have someone to clean the floors. Then, about 2 years back, she agreed to appoint someone to clean our windows, and recently, she agreed to have part-time help in the kitchen. Each appointment was made after battles galore with Amma, where I simply wore her down with my nagging. Today, Amma has learnt to just about tolerate this intrusion into her privacy for the little time that the domestic helps are there in our house every day. Then about 2 months back something happened that upset this little equilibrium of having part-time domestic help at home.

My Appa (father) fell seriously ill resulting in hospitalisation. By the time he was discharged, it became very clear that he could no longer take care of his own needs independently and would require help at every stage. This meant that we had to arrange for an attendant who would be with him at all times. When Appa got discharged, he came home to changed domestic arrangements—in addition to the part-time help that we already had, we had a full-time attendant just for him. This time around, I too keenly felt the claustrophobia of having a stranger around all the time at home. As for what my mother felt like, I don’t even need to elaborate.

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One day, about 2 weeks back, the attendant asked for 1/2 day off to attend to some personal work. I was so happy at the prospect of having the house to ourselves that I almost pushed the poor guy out of the house. Very pleased with myself, I went and sat next to my father and said, “It’s so nice to have the house to ourselves for some time at least. This loss of privacy is getting to be a bit too much. Don’t you think so, Appa?”

Appa was silent for some time before replying. His reply stunned me and left me deeply, intensely ashamed.

What is privacy to a man who has to be washed and fed and cleaned and dressed by someone else? It means nothing in the face of losing the dignity of being independent.

19 thoughts on “Loss of privacy vs. Loss of dignity

  1. Interesting thoughts. I guess losing either of dignity or privacy seems such a huge matter, but at the end, as you rightly pointed out, it’s about balance. Too much of any thing is bad.
    Hope your father recovers completely soon. 🙂

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    1. It is unfair to compare anything and particularly something like privacy and dignity. But sometimes comparisons have to done for lessons to be learnt. Thanks, Deboshree for your wishes.

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  2. This is so true. My late mother in law, a fiercely independent person was bedridden for the last ten months of her life dependent on attendents and maids. After she is gone it is a strange feeling- the population at home seems to have halved. We still have one live in but hoepfully when we move to a smaller house we would have the house just to ourselves. The price one has to pay for privacy is never too high. Interesting post!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Meera. We have been having attendents from Arpril and it has been quite an eye-opener in terms of both perceptions of privacy and dignity. And as I am understanding every single day, there is something to learn every day.

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  3. We are nowadays very independant & tend to guard our privacy
    but a time come when we have to reach out & hold hands.
    I wish your father recovery with GOD speed.

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  4. This one brought tears to my eyes. I do not know how you are dealing with the situation. Sometimes undergoing something is far more preferable to seeing a loved one suffer. However, dignity is within us, and nothing/no one can take it away from us without our permission. Your love and sensitivity is what filters through this write-up with beautiful clarity.
    Deeply personal and very moving.

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    1. In theory, it works fine when you say that nobody can take our dignity away from us without our permission. But try saying that to a person, who till he was 80 was staying away from his family, alone and independently and now is comepletely dependent on others for his every need.

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  5. I also believed in privacy and still believe to some extent…did all the house work all these years. Its been a little more than a year that I employed a lady for what we call Jhadoo-Katka. I give her a weekly off and love it when some days she announces she will not be able to make it to work. I say “Yipee” and start attending to the chores. She is a single mother bringing up her two daughters. She has had a very hard life. I realise how important it is for her to work. I also realise it is important for me to employ her. If my loss of privacy helps her in gaining her dignity, so be it. I can understand how hard it must be for your Dad who has been so independent all these years. I sincerely pray he becomes well very soon.

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    1. Over the years, I have come to realise that privacy is largely a physical construct while dignity is a mental one. Of course the division is not always clearcut and the lines blur. And in an online world, what is private after all?

      This post is two years old, Sonal, and my father passed away a month after it was written. Thanks for your wishes.

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  6. Very touching and thoughtfully written. I hope your dad is better now and hope he fully recovers. My prayers for him.
    The question of dignity and privacy always comes in the field that I am in. To examine a patient’s private parts and to get him stripped is an intrusion of both. Rape victims suffer the mental trauma and the physical torture to such an extent that to talk of privacy and dignity seems like a euphemism to them. I know, I’m off-track but the title of the post and the discussion got me into thinking mode.
    We’ve always had a maid to help us in our house, simply because we had no-one to do that for us. My late mother-in-law was forever ill since I got married and she was too frail to do househld work and I was a woman who studied, worked at hospital, cooked and took care of the kid. For all other works, we needed a help. So a compromise on privacy came very early. Compromise on dignity does come sometimes, especially during the final years of life, during medical visits, or when surviving disasters…..and though we cannot compare but what your dad said is completely true. It is far too challenging than the loss of privacy.
    Thanks for sharing this deeply emotional story.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Dr. Mamta. I had shared this incident with our family doctor and he what you have shared here – almost to the word !

      Today, while I am resigned to lack of a certain amount of privacy in my daily life, lack of dignity is something that is difficult to even think about.

      It was a difficult time when I wrote this post two years back. My father passed away a month later.

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