Have you ever had a moment when you felt constricted by someone else’s presence? Experienced a pang of helplessness when you found your regular seat taken on the bus to work? Did you end up frowning after a perfect night’s sleep when you couldn’t find your slippers next to your bed? If you have felt invaded by a situation that has allowed someone else or something else to take up the space (or even disappear from it) which you considered ‘your own’, whether it was on a bus, in an office, or even in your own home, then you know exactly what I mean. On a lighter note, for some of you who follow my Quirky column, you may have noticed another person represented it last weekend. Oh yes, I did consider that as an invasion of space, but as Postnoon says, ‘it was an honest mistake’ and not meant to dislodge me.
When did this whole ‘space’ thing start? When we were born on Earth, and claimed our space that continued to grow with us over time! That space transformed and extended like a living creature, from a spot to a circle, including every single area or thing that we touch. Just take a look around your own home right now. The place on your dresser where you put your perfume bottle, the nook behind the cistern where you shove-in the morning newspaper, the second shelf in the kitchen where the coffee jar is kept, the potted Tulsi plant in the right corner of the balcony… everything has been assigned its own space — by you. It is as if we look for the right kind of spaces to associate our things with and they get fixed there for, if we can help it, eternity. Sometimes, we even match people to certain spaces who don’t necessarily belong to us, like the night watchman. When I don’t find the night watchman on his seat next to the elevator of the apartment building where I live, I begin to wonder if he is off duty! But more than such instances which reinforce the sanctity of space in our lives, what we take for granted in our personal lives in terms of space, becomes the deal-breaker.
Once during a short vacation with a school friend whom I was meeting after twenty-odd years, I had this painful revelation. It was great fun at first — the gossip, the empathy, the reminiscences and the common interest in great food. But after a day together in Bangalore, it became obvious that we were in each other’s way! Boxed in the same hotel room, the thrill of rediscovering friendship quickly took on a new flavour. We were too anxious to be relaxed. Why has she kept the towel here? This place is for the bathrobe. Why is she washing her feet in the washbasin before her prayers? That is for washing your face and mouth. Why is she keeping her handbag on the luggage rack? That is for, obviously, our luggage! It would have been so much easier to just book separate rooms — and it would have given us both enough space to be ourselves and happy.
The next time you think that you can share a hotel room, cab, towel, or a glass of water (because you don’t mind drinking from someone else’s and you are too lazy to get up and get one), think again. In fact, it may serve you well to remember that space is not just the physical dimension — it is also not about being ‘accommodative’ or ‘inclusive’ as management schools would love to tell you. It is about the psychological and personal areas of a person’s life, habits and way of existence over which you have no right of control. We must acknowledge that as individuals, the spaces we dwell in become a part of us. It defines us, and for that reason alone, we must keep it sacred.
The writer is a communication specialist.