By Shraddha Shanbag:
Since I hail from Mumbai, people assume that I must be modern and come from a family that is cool. Well, that’s a misconception. My father is doting to the extent of an over-protection that instils fear, and both my parents second each other in every decision. So my mother is overprotective as well. Being their only daughter, the over protection is naturally doubled. So asking for anything involving a risk means all their protective genes marching out.
When I was younger, I misunderstood their love and threw tantrums until I got my way. A rebel, as my father still calls me. As I grew older I started understanding their point of view and began making compromises to avoid arguments. I knew some topics were out of bounds for discussion. Any tantrum only meant spoiling everyone’s mood. One such topic was learning to ride a two wheeler. I had seen my father convincing my cousins, firmly, about the safety concerns of the two-wheeler whenever they brought it up. So when it was time for me to get my license, I only got my four wheeler license. I guess I lacked the courage to confront them. I knew my father hated two wheelers.
Fast forward to the India Fellow Social Leadership program. It selects young Indians who are keen to work at the grassroots with communities and nonprofits for a year. I was a part of the 2014-15 cohort. A month after my work at Seva Mandir (an organization working in rural South Rajasthan) began, I was told by the staff there that they might consider giving me and the other girls Scootys for the field work. Since the other field workers did not know how to ride a bike, they asked me whether I could. I shook my head. I began mulling over the opportunity – learning how to ride a Scooty.
I mustered up the courage to call up and convince dad just before travelling home. Upon asking him he said a swift, “Okay.” I wasn’t sure whether he was really okay. I was going to go home soon for my birthday. I applied for my learner’s license then. My dad had made all the arrangements for it but did not come with me. My vacation ended before my license arrived. I received a call from my father a week later asking me whether he should courier it. I said I would pass him the address but kept postponing it. My fear of two-wheelers had grown. I didn’t have the confidence of riding it by myself. I don’t know what was inhibiting me so much.
The topic of the two-wheeler came up again at work. People started talking about how easy it is to drive a two wheeler. They, however, didn’t have my complete attention. I was going to head home the following week. I wondered whether riding in front of my father and gaining his approval would ease my fears.
When I headed home for Diwali I was on a mission – to learn to ride the two-wheeler. But first, we needed to find one. After a day-long search, a person agreed to lend us his for a day or two. Next morning, my dad accompanied me and I began my first lesson. I slammed the accelerator and… the Scooty jumped. Thankfully, both my legs could reach the ground and I balanced. After multiple attempts, I managed to balance as well as maintain my acceleration. Soon, my feet came off the ground, and I was riding. I looked at my father and smiled. No smile yet. I practised – left-hand turn, right-hand turn, braking, stopping, restarting. I started to enjoy myself, but it wasn’t second nature yet. I needed more practice. All the while my father was standing in the centre, as I took rounds around him. After I was done with practicing, I looked at my father and indicated that we should leave. As I got off, he came towards me and got on the Scooty. He said, “I have never driven a two wheeler; I will give it a try.”
It was time for my overprotective genes to express themselves. And they did. I was shivering from within with anxiety. But he was a natural. He rode three rounds with ease (and little wobbles) and brought it to a halt in front of me, with a huge smile on his face. His riding the two-wheeler made me happier. For me, that was a gesture of acceptance. I learned another thing that day. There is a possibility that my father had given me his acceptance way before, when he made arrangements for my learner’s license. Just because my mind believed otherwise, I had postponed my learning by three months. There is also a possibility that he would have allowed me if I had asked his permission when I got my four-wheeler license – which means I had postponed it by years.
Our apprehensions and preconceived notions imprison our mind, ultimately influencing what we end up doing (or not doing). It is up to us to condition it and break the walls of inhibition.
Shraddha Shanbag is a 2014 cohort India Fellow from Mumbai. She worked with the non-profit, Seva Mandir, based out of Udaipur, in health and nutrition research in 2014-15. She now continues to live with her family in Mumbai.