Every time I get asked that question, I flint a little, not knowing the intention of the person asking that question. And it happens in the most unexpected situations: when I am meeting a psychologist for the first time, or when I am at a yoga retreat, when I attending a conference, when I am at a job interview, and/or when I am talking to a professional from another field about psychology. Every time, without fail, I get asked the very same question by different people, “And what does your husband do?” In the first few times of being asked this question, I was stunned and would feel very odd at the prospect of answering this question, wondering what it had to do with my academic and professional background. I am not sure if this is just a Mumbai thing or if it is pan-India…but it sure seems bizarre and inappropriate to me; it seems very normal to the people asking it.
However, I am not surprised that this question is asked on almost a routine basis. I think the concept of “personal space” is still alien to the Indian psyche, where we are deeply rooted in a very collectivist and familial system, making others space, others business, our own. Although as a culture Indians are gradually drifting from this collectivist attitude, this concept of personal space has yet to seep into the personal and professional realms of people’s lives. This concept of personal space is absent even in the physical realm. To give you a simple example, every time I am standing in line either to buy a train ticket or what not, I find that the person behind me is unable to maintain a decent distance from me. Either their hands are touching my back or their bag is nudging my side, or they are so close to me I can feel their breath or smell the coconut oil from their hair. It is annoying!
In the USA, when I was networking with psychiatrists or psychologists, if I was a job interview, if I was at a conference, I was never asked what my husband did for a living. Even more interesting, now that I think about it, I was never even asked if I was married! My interactions with professionals were strictly professional and people never crossed the boundary between personal and professional. Was it that people in the USA did not inquire about what my husband did for a living because they did not care? Was it because it did not matter to them whether I was married or not? No and No! The people I met on a professional basis only focused on me, on my credentials, and what I could bring to the table as a professional.
I can’t help but wonder why I am routinely asked the question about my husband’s job and what he does. Is it because knowing what my husband does will reflect on me and my social status? Is it because people think I, as a private practitioner, I will not be able to stand on my two feet and will require the financial backing of my husband? Is it the case that, by knowing what my husband does, people will develop of certain opinion about me, irrespective of my own merit and experience? I have no clue.
However, these days when I am asked, with all sincerity and curiosity, “And what does your husband do?”, I respond and tell them exactly what he does with great pride, whilst also wondering that if Rochelle Suri were a man and was talking to a professional in India, would she be asked, “And what does your wife do?” I really have to wonder…