A thin line between privacy and safety

Filed on September 16, 2021

Privacy is sacrosanct. I don’t like someone looking over my shoulder when I read, write or scroll through my mobile. I wouldn’t tolerate if someone chats up in the multiplex when I’m completely absorbed by the greatness of a creation. I pray every good movie is a box office flop so I can be alone in the sea of solitude a few dirhams could buy. I prefer to feel the book I’m reading or the movie I’m watching are made exclusively for me.

I wouldn’t share the brand or fragrance when someone asks me which cologne I wear. The world should recognise me by the fragrance I spread. The coffee shop or the water hole I visit should be empty of customers so that I can feel at peace with myself. No one else should step into my world of contentment.

The watch I wear shouldn’t tick the heartbeat of the rest of the world. Never mind if it’s made in China. I don’t want the wind to take the enchanting scent of the Shiuli flower in Shoojit Sircar’s magnum opus October to every heart in the world. I wouldn’t let the Ho Chi Minh and Neruda I read to see the light of the day because I don’t want romance and revolution to light up every mind. I would burn every other tee that sports the iconic Che Guevara image.

The empty beach I visit should be a crowd of my own ego and ecstasy. The waves that the sea sculpts and the poetry that the winds hum should serenade no other soul. No one else should walk the red carpet that the sinking sun paints across the celestial sphere. I’m the king of the empty land.

Last weekend, I was dabbling in the quiet and privacy of an ungodly hour outside my desert home, when neighbour Jose pulled up into the driveway.

“What’s up? Game for a drink?” he asked, rolling down the window of his station wagon.

I was so unfaithful to myself when I nodded like a child. Settling into the couch that he has dumped in the cobbled front yard, Jose sighed, sipping his drink.

“Look at the tranquillity that fills our community. Still I stay awake and restless when the world around me sleeps,” Jose said, looking at the streetlight filtering through a diaphanous curtain of humidity.

“My parents are home alone. Of course, there’s a living-in maid.”

“That’s what most expats do. Either keep them at an old age home or find a good nurse,” I said matter-of-factly.

“My responsibility towards people who gave birth to me, fed and educated me and got my back until I was able stand up to the challenges of life, cannot stop at an old-age home.”

“So, what are you doing about it?”

“I have roped in technology. Have installed 16 cameras in and around our premises to monitor their movements. In the balcony, in the corridor, in the kitchen, in the garden, outside the washrooms and, of course, in their bedroom.”

“What?!” My shriek was louder than the desert wind that swept over the community.

“Did I do anything wrong?”

“A camera in the bedroom?”

“What’s wrong? Mum is 86 and dad 90.”

“You can’t toss their privacy into the winds. You are snooping into their bedroom, their personal space.”

“What privacy are you talking about at this age? It’s their safety that matters.”

Jose whipped out his smart phone and switched on an app that streamed visuals from the cameras live. The night vision equipment in the parents’ bedroom beamed vivid visuals of his beloved people resting in a pair of imported hospital beds, adjustable to any ankle and comfort.

“Look at them. Mum is sleeping like a baby; she is a well-behaved girl. Dad is sitting up like a restless soul. It’s 4am in India. There’s something bothering him.”

“Maybe he wants to peck her on the cheek. Maybe he is cursing his loveless predicament.” I had a glance of the visuals and quickly pulled my eyes back. I didn’t want to be partner in the crime of breach of privacy of a couple, however old they are. Age cannot wither love, nor custom stale.

“See brother, the sky doesn’t fall down when a mother keeps her baby under surveillance while she does house chores. Humans are like kids when they grow old. They too need the care and attention that a baby requires.”

I couldn’t disagree more. I wouldn’t trade my privacy for anything. No way. I might want to hug and kiss my partner whenever and wherever I like. It’s no one else’s business. Not even my children. My personal space is not tradeable. It’s priceless.

Back in my papasan at home, I switched on Amazon Prime to replay October when wifey woke up and paced down the stairs.

“Come to sleep.”

“No, let me watch this once more, all alone.”

“You’re a selfish boor. Such people shouldn’t expect others to read their columns and books,” she said as she flung Life’s Like That into the bin.

Nothing mattered anymore as a whiff of Shiuli washed over me.